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THE HARVARD CLASSICS 



The Five-Foot Shelf of Books 



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THE HARVARD CLASSICS 
EDITED BY CHARLES W. ELIOT, LL.D. 



Essays and 
English Traits 

By Ralph Waldo Emerson 

W»M Introductions and Notes 
\oIume 5 




P. F. Collier & Son Corporation 

NEW YORK 



Copyright, 1909 
Br P. F. Collier & Son 

MANUFACTURSD IN V. S. A. 



CONTENTS 

rAQB 

The American Scholak 5 

An Address *5 

Man the Reformer 43 

Self-reliance 59 

Compensation "5 

Friendship ^°5 

Heroism '^^ 

The Over-soul '33 

Circles M9 

The Poet *^' 

Character * 3 

Manners '99 

Gifts "9 

Nature ^3 

Politics ^39 

New England Reformers ^53 

Worship ^73 

Beauty *97 



INTRODUCTORY NOTE 

Ralph Waldo Emerson was born in Boston, Mass., on May 25, 1803, 
the son of a prominent Unitarian minister. He was educated at the 
Boston Latin School and at Harvard College, from which he graduated 
at eighteen. On leaving college he taught school for some time, and in 
1825 returned to Cambridge to study divinity. The next year he began 
to preach; and in 1829 he married Ellen Tucker, and was chosen col- 
league to the Rev. Henry Ware, minister of the historic church in Han- 
over Street, Boston. So far things seemed to be going well with him; 
but in 1831 his wife died, and in the next year scruples about administer- 
ing the Lord's Supper led him to give up his church. In sadness and 
poor health he set out in December on his first visit to Europe, passing 
through Italy, Switzerland, and France to Britain, and visiting Landor, 
Coleridge, Wordsworth, and, most important of all, Carlyle, with whom 
he laid the foundation of a life-long friendship. On his return to Amer- 
ica he took up lecturing, and he continued for nearly forty years to use 
this form of expression for his ideas on religion, politics, literature, and 
philosophy. In 1835 he lx)ught a house in Concord, and took there his 
second wife, Lidian Jackson. The history of the rest of his life is un- 
eventful, as far as external incident is concerned. He traveled frequendy 
giving lectures; took piart in founding in 1840 the Dial, and in 1857 
the Atlantic Monthly, to both of which he contributed freely, and the 
former of which he edited for a short time; introduced the writings of 
Carlyle to America, and published a succession of volumes of essays, 
addresses, and poems. He made two more visits to Europe, and on the 
earlier delivered lectures in the principal towns of England and Scodand. 
He died at Concord on April 27, 1882, after a few years of failing mem- 
ory, during which his public activities were necessarily gready reduced. 

At the time of Emerson's death, he was recognized as the foremost 
writer and thinker of his country; but this recognition had come only 
gradually. The candor and the vigor of his thinking had led him often 
to champion unpopular causes, and during his earlier years of author- 
ship his departures from Unitarian orthodoxy were viewed with hostility 
and alarm. In the Abolitionist movement also he took a prominent part, 
which brought him the distinction of being mobbed in Boston and Cam- 
bridge. In these and other controversies, however, while frank in his 
opinions, and eloquent and vigorous in his expression of them, he 
showed a remarkable quality of tact and reasonableness, which prevented 



4 INTRODUCTORY NOTE 

the opposition to him from taking the acutely personal turn which it 
assumed in relation to some of his associates, and which preserved to him 
a rare dignity. 

Recognition of his eminence has not been confined to his countrymen. 
Carlyle in Britain and Hermann Grimm in Germany were only leaders 
of a large body of admirers in Europe, and it may be safely said that no 
American has exerted in the Old World an intellectual influence com* 
parable to that of Emerson. 

The spirit and ideas which constitute the essence of his teaching are 
fully expressed in the essays contained in this volume. The writings 
here produced belong to the earlier half of his literary activity; but it may 
fairly be said that by i860 Emerson had put forth all his impxjrtant 
fundamental ideas, the later utterances consisting largely of restatements 
and applications of these. Thanks to the singular beauty and condensa- 
tion of his style, it is thus possible to obtain from this one volume a com- 
plete view of the philosophy of the greatest of American thinkers. 



THE AMERICAN SCHOLAR 

An Oration Delivered Before the Phi Beta Kappa Society, 
AT Cambridge, August 31, 1837 

MR. PRESIDENT AND GENTLEMEN: I greet you on 
the recommencement of our literary year. Our anniversary 
is one of hope, and, perhaps, not enough of labor. We do 
not meet for games of strength or skill, for the recitation of histories, 
tragedies, and odes, like the ancient Greeks; for parliaments of love 
and poesy, like the Troubadours; nor for the advancement of science, 
like our contemporaries in the British and European capitals. Thus 
far our holiday has been simply a friendly sign of the survival of 
the love of letters amongst a people too busy to give to letters any 
more. As such, it is precious as the sign of an indestructible instinct. 
Perhaps the time is already come when it ought to be, and will be, 
something else; when the sluggard intellect of this continent will 
look from under its iron lids, and BU the postponed expectation of 
the world with something better than the exertions of mechanical 
skill. Our day of dependence, our long apprenticeship to the learn- 
ing of other lands, draws to a close. The millions that around us 
are rushing into life cannot always be fed on the sere remains of 
foreign harvests. Events, actions arise, that must be sung, that will 
sing themselves. Who can doubt that poetry will revive and lead 
in a new age, as the star in the constellation Harp, which now flames 
in our zenith, astronomers announce, shall one day be the pole-star 
for a thousand years? 

In this hope I accept the topic which not only usage, but the 
nature of our association, seem to prescribe to this day — the Amer- 
ican Scholar. Year by year we come up hither to read one more 
chapter of his biography. Let us inquire what light new days and 
events have thrown on his character and his hopes. 
It is one of those fables which, out of an unknown antiquity, 

5 



6 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

convey an unlooked-for wisdom, that the gods, in the beginning, 
divided Man into men, that he might be more helpful to him- 
self; just as the hand was divided into fingers, the better to answer 
its end. 

The old fable covers a doctrine ever new and sublime; that there 
is One Man, — present to all particular men only partially, or through 
one faculty; and that you must take the whole society to find the 
whole man. Man is not a farmer, or a professor, or an engineer, but 
he is all. Man is priest, and scholar, and statesman, and producer, 
and soldier. In the divided or social state these functions are par- 
celled out to individuals, each of whom aims to do his stint of the 
joint work, whilst each other performs his. The fable implies that 
the individual, to possess himself, must sometimes return from his 
own labor to embrace all the other laborers. But, unfortunately, this 
original unit, this fountain of power, has been so distributed to mul- 
titudes, has been so minutely subdivided and peddled out, that it is 
spilled into drops and cannot be gathered. The state of society is 
one in which the members have suffered amputation from the trunk, 
and strut about so many walking monsters — a good finger, a neck, 
a stomach, an elbow, but never a man. 

Man is thus metamorphosed into a thing, into many things. The 
planter, who is Man sent out into the field to gather food, is seldom 
cheered by any idea of the true dignity of his ministry. He sees his 
bushel and his cart, and nothing beyond, and sinks into the farmer, 
instead of Man on the farm. The tradesman scarcely ever gives an 
ideal worth to his work, but is ridden by the routine of his craft, 
and the soul is subject to dollars. The priest becomes a form; the 
attorney, a statute-book; the mechanic, a machine; the sailor, a rope 
of a ship. 

In this distribution of functions the scholar is the delegated intel- 
lect. In the right state, he is Man Thinl{ing. In the degenerate state, 
when the victim of society, he tends to become a mere thinker, or, 
still worse, the parrot of other men's thinking. 

In this view of him, as Man Thinking, the theory of his office is 
contained. Him Nature solicits with all her placid, all her monitory 
pictures; him the past instructs; him the future invites. Is not, in- 
deed, every man a student, and do not all things exist for the stu- 



THE AMERICAN SCHOLAR 7 

dent's behoof? And, finally, is not the true scholar the only true 
master? But the old oracle said, "All things have two handles: be- 
ware of the wrong one." In life, too often the scholar errs with 
mankind and forfeits his privilege. Let us see him in his school, 
and consider him in reference to the main influences he receives. 

I. The first in time and the first in importance of the influences 
upon the mind is that of Nature. Every day, the sun; and, after sun- 
set. Night and her stars. Ever the winds blow; ever the grass grows. 
Every day, men and women, conversing, beholding and beholden. 
The scholar is he of all men whom this spectacle most engages. He 
must settle its value in his mind. What is Nature to him? There is 
never a beginning, there is never an end, to the inexplicable con- 
tinuity of this web of God, but always circular power returning into 
itself. Therein it resembles his own spirit, whose beginning, whose 
ending, he never can find, — so entire, so boundless. Far, too, as her 
splendors shine, system on system shooting like rays upward, down- 
ward, without centre, without circumference, — in the mass and in the 
particle, Nature hastens to render account of herself to the mind. 
Classification begins. To the young mind, everything is individual, 
stands by itself. By and by it finds how to join two things, and see in 
them one nature; then three, then three thousand; and so tyrannized 
over by its own unifying instinct, it goes on tying things together, di- 
minishing anomalies, discovering roots running under ground, 
whereby contrary and remote things cohere, and flower out from one 
stem. It presently learns that since the dawn of history there has been 
a constant accumulation and classifying of facts. But what is classifi- 
cation but the perceiving that these objects are not chaotic, and are 
not foreign, but have a law which is also a law of the human mind ? 
The astronomer discovers that geometry, a pure abstraction of the 
human mind, is the measure of planetary motion. The chemist finds 
proportions and intelligible method throughout matter; and science is 
nothing but the finding of analogy, identity, in the most remote 
parts. The ambitious soul sits down before each refractory fact; one 
after another reduces all strange constitutions, all new powers, to 
their class and their law, and goes on forever to animate the last 
fibre of organization, the outskirts of nature, by insight. 



8 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

Thus to him, to this school-boy under the bending dome of day, is 
suggested that he and it proceed from one root; one is leaf and one is 
flower; relation, sympathy, stirring in every vein. And what is that 
Root ? Is not that the soul of his soul ? A thought too bold, a dream 
too wild. Yet when this spiritual light shall have revealed the law of 
more earthly natures, when he has learned to worship the soul, and 
to see that the natural philosophy that now is, is only the first grop- 
ings of its gigantic hand, he shall look forward to an ever-expanding 
knowledge as to a becoming creator. He shall see that Nature is the 
opposite of the soul, answering to it part for part. One is seal and 
one is print. Its beauty is the beauty of his own mind. Its laws are 
the laws of his own mind. Nature then becomes to him the measure 
of his attainments. So much of Nature as he is ignorant of, so much 
of his own mind does he not yet possess. And, in fine, the ancient pre- 
cept, "Know thyself," and the modern precept, "Study Nature," 
become at last one maxim. 

II. The next great influence into the spirit of the scholar is the 
mind of the Past — in whatever form, whether of literature, of art, 
of institutions, that mind is inscribed. Books are the best type of the 
influence of the past, and perhaps we shall get at the truth — learn the 
amount of this influence more conveniendy — by considering their 
value alone. 

The theory of books is noble. The scholar of the first age received 
into him the world around; brooded thereon; gave it the new 
arrangement of his own mind, and uttered it again. It came into 
him life; it went out from him truth. It came to him short-lived 
actions; it went out from him immortal thoughts. It came to him 
business; it went from him poetry. It was dead fact; now it is quick 
thought. It can stand and it can go. It now endures, it now flies, it 
now inspires. Precisely in proportion to the depth of mind from 
which it issued, so high does it soar, so long does it sing. 

Or, I might say, it depends on how far the process had gone of 
transmuting life into truth. In proportion to the completeness of 
the distillation, so will the purity and imperishableness of the prod- 
uct be. But none is quite perfect. As no air-pump can by any means 
make a perfect vacuum, so neither can any artist entirely exclude the 



THE AMERICAN SCHOLAR 9 

conventional, the local, the perishable from his book, or write a book 
of pure thought that shall be as efficient in all respects to a remote 
posterity, as to contemporaries, or rather to the second age. Each age, 
it is found, must write its own books; or rather, each generation for 
the next succeeding. The books of an older period will not fit 
this. 

Yet hence arises a grave mischief. The sacredness which attaches 
to the act of creation — the act of thought — is transferred to the 
record. The poet chanting was felt to be a divine man: henceforth 
the chant is divine also. The writer was a just and wise spirit: hence- 
forward it is settled, the book is perfect; as love of the hero corrupts 
into worship of his statue. Instantly the book becomes noxious; the 
guide is a tyrant. The sluggish and perverted mind of the multitude, 
slow to open to the incursions of Reason, having once so opened, 
having once received this book, stands upon it and makes an outcry 
if it is disparaged. Colleges are built on it. Books are written on it 
by thinkers, not by Man Thinking; by men of talent, that is, who 
start wrong, who set out from accepted dogmas, not from their own 
sight of principles. Meek young men grow up in libraries believing 
it their duty to accept the views which Cicero, which Locke, which 
Bacon have given, forgetful that Cicero, Locke, and Bacon were only 
young men in libraries when they wrote these books. 

Hence, instead of Man Thinking we have the bookworm. Hence, 
the book-learned class who value books as such; not as related to 
Nature and the human constitution, but as making a sort of Third 
Estate with the world and the soul. Hence, the restorers of readings, 
the emendators, the bibliomaniacs of all degrees. 

Books are the best of things, well used; abused, among the worst. 
What is the right use? What is the one end, which all means go to 
effect ? They are for nothing but to inspire. I had better never see a 
book, than to be warped by its attraction clean out of my own orbit, 
and made a satellite instead of a system. The one thing in the world, 
of value, is the active soul. This every man is entitled to; this every 
man contains within him, although, in almost all men, obstructed, 
and as yet unborn. The soul active sees absolute truth; and utters 
truth, or creates. In this action it is genius; not the privilege of here 
and there a favorite, but the sound estate of every man. In its 



10 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

essence it is progressive. The book, the college, the school of art, 
the institution of any kind, stop with some past utterance of genius. 
This is good, say they, — let us hold by this. They pin me down. 
They look backward and not forward. But genius looks forward; 
the eyes of man are set in his forehead, not in his hindhead; man 
hopes; genius creates. Whatever talents may be, if the man create 
not, the pure efflux of the Deity is not his; cinders and smoke there 
may be, but not yet flame. There are creative manners, there are 
creative actions, and creative words; manners, actions, words, that 
is, indicative of no custom or authority, but springing spontaneous 
from the mind's own sense of good and fair. 

On the other part, instead of being its own seer, let it receive from 
another mind its truth, though it were in torrents of light, without 
periods of solitude, inquest, and self-recovery, and a fatal disservice 
is done. Genius is always sufficiently the enemy of genius by over- 
influence. The literature of every nation bears me witness. The 
English dramatic poets have Shakspearized now for two hundred 
years. 

Undoubtedly there is a right way of reading, so it be sternly sub- 
ordinated. Man Thinking must not be subdued by his instruments. 
Books are for the scholar's idle times. When we can read God 
directly, the hour is too precious to be wasted in other men's tran- 
scripts of their readings. But when the intervals of darkness come, 
as come they must, — when the sun is hid, and the stars withdraw 
their shining, — we repair to the lamps which were kindled by their 
ray, to guide our steps to the East again, where the dawn is. We 
hear, that we may speak. The Arabian proverb says, "A fig-tree, 
looking on a fig-tree, becometh fruitful." 

It is remarkable, the character of the pleasure we derive from the 
best books. They impress us with the conviction that one nature 
wrote and the same reads. We read the verses of one of the great 
English poets, of Chaucer, of Marvell, of Dryden, with the most 
modern joy, — with a pleasure, I mean, which is in great part caused 
by the abstraction of all time from their verses. There is some awe 
mixed with the joy of our surprise when this poet, who lived in 
some past world two or three hundred years ago, says that which 
lies close to my own soul, that which I also had well-nigh thought 



THE AMERICAN SCHOLAR II 

and said. But for the evidence thence afforded to the philosophical 
doctrine of the identity of all minds, we should suppose some pre- 
established harmony, some foresight of souls that were to be, and 
some preparation of stores for their future wants, like the fact ob- 
served in insects, who lay up food before death for the young grub 
they shall never see. 

I would not be hurried by any love of system, by any exaggeration 
of instincts, to underrate the Book. We all know that as the human 
body can be nourished on any food, though it were boiled grass 
and the broth of shoes, so the human mind can be fed by any 
knowledge. And great and heroic men have existed who had almost 
no other information than by the printed page. I only would say, 
that it needs a strong head to bear that diet. One must be an in- 
ventor to read well. As the proverb says, "He that would bring 
home the wealth of the Indies, must carry out the wealth of the 
Indies." There is then creative reading as well as creative writing. 
When the mind is braced by labor and invention, the page of what- 
ever book we read becomes luminous with manifold allusion. Every 
sentence is doubly significant, and the sense of our author is as 
broad as the world. We then see, what is always true, that, as the 
seer's hour of vision is short and rare among heavy days and months, 
so is its record, perchance, the least part of his volume. The discern- 
ing will read, in his Plato or Shakspeare, only that least part, — only 
the authentic utterances of the oracle; all the rest he rejects, were it 
never so many times Plato's and Shakspeare's. 

Of course, there is a portion of reading quite indispensable to a 
wise man. History and exact science he must learn by laborious 
reading. Colleges, in like manner, have their indispensable office, — 
to teach elements. But they can only highly serve us when they aim 
not to drill, but to create; when they gather from far every ray of 
various genius to their hospitable halls, and, by the concentrated 
fires, set the hearts of their youth on flame. Thought and knowledge 
are natures in which apparatus and pretension avail nothing. Gowns, 
and pecuniary foundations, though of towns of gold, can never 
countervail the least sentence or syllable of wit. Forget this, and 
our American colleges will recede in their public importance, whilst 
they grow richer every year. 



12 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

III. There goes in the world a notion that the scholar should be 
a recluse, a valetudinarian, — as unfit for any handiwork or public 
labor, as a pen-knife for an axe. The sooUed "practical men" sneer 
at speculative men, as if, because they speculate or see, they could 
do nothing. I have heard it said that the clergy — who are always, 
more universally than any other class, the scholars of their day — 
are addressed as women; that the rough, spontaneous conversation 
of men they do not hear, but only a mincing and diluted speech. 
They are often virtually disfranchised; and, indeed, there are advo- 
cates for their celibacy. As far as this is true of the studious classes, 
it is not just and wise. Action is with the scholar subordinate, but 
it is essential. Without it, he is not yet man. Without it, thought 
can never ripen into truth. Whilst the world hangs before the eye 
as a cloud of beauty, we cannot even see its beauty. Inaction is 
cowardice, but there can be no scholar without the heroic mind. 
The preamble of thought, the transition through which it passes 
from the unconscious to the conscious, is action. Only so much do 
I know, as I have lived. Instantly we know whose words are loaded 
with life, and whose not. 

The world — this shadow of the soul, or other me — lies wide 
around. Its attractions are the keys which unlock my thoughts and 
make me acquainted with myself. I run eagerly into this resounding 
tumult. I grasp the hands of those next me, and take my place in 
the ring to suffer and to work, taught by an instinct, that so shall 
the dumb abyss be vocal with speech. I pierce its order; I dissipatt 
its fear; I dispose of it within the circuit of my expanding life. So 
much only of life as I know by experience, so much of the wilder- 
ness have I vanquished and planted, or so far have I extended my 
being, my dominion. I do not see how any man can afford, for the 
sake of his nerves and his nap, to spare any action in which he 
can partake. It is pearls and rubies to his discourse. Drudgery, 
calamity, exasperation, want, are instructors in eloquence and wis- 
dom. The true scholar grudges every opportunity of action passed 
by, as a loss of power. 

It is the raw material out of which the intellect moulds her splen- 
did products. A strange process too, this, by which experience is con- 



THE AMERICAN SCHOLAR I3 

verted into thought, as a mulberry leaf is converted into satin. The 
manufacture goes forward at all hours. 

The actions and events of our childhood and youth are now mat- 
ters of calmest observation. They lie like fair pictures in the air. 
Not so with our recent actions, — with the business which we now 
have in hand. On this we are quite unable to speculate. Our 
affections as yet circulate through it. We no more feel or know it, 
than we feel the feet, or the hand, or the brain of our body. The 
new deed is yet a part of life, — remains for a time immersed in our 
unconscious life. In some contemplative hour it detaches itself from 
the life like a ripe fruit, to become a thought of the mind. Instantly 
it is raised, transfigured; the corruptible has put on incorruption. 
Henceforth it is an object of beauty, however base its origin and 
neighborhood. Observe, too, the impossibility of antedating this act. 
In its grub state, it cannot fly, it cannot shine, it is a dull grub. But 
suddenly, without observation, the selfsame thing unfurls beautiful 
wings, and is an angel of wisdom. So is there no fact, no event, in 
our private history which shall not, sooner or later, lose its adhesive, 
inert form, and astonish us by soaring from our body into the 
empyrean. Cradle and infancy, school and playground, the fear of 
boys, and dogs, and ferules, the love of little maids and berries, 
and many another fact that once filled the whole sky, are gone 
already; friend and relative, profession and party, town and country, 
nation and world, must also soar and sing. 

Of course, he who has put forth his total strength in fit actions has 
the richest return of wisdom. I will not shut myself out of this 
globe of action, and transplant an oak into a flower-pot, there to 
hunger and pine; nor trust the revenue of some single faculty, and 
exhaust one vein of thought, much like those Savoyards, who, get- 
ting their livelihood by carving shepherds, shepherdesses, and smok- 
ing Dutchmen for all Europe, went out one day to the mountain to 
find stock, and discovered that they had whittled up the last of their 
pine-trees. Authors we have in numbers who have written out their 
vein, and who, moved by a commendable prudence, sail for Greece 
or Palestine, follow the trapper into the prairie, or ramble round 
Algiers, to replenish their merchantable stock. 



14 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

If it were only for a vocabulary, the scholar would be covetous of 
action. Life is our dictionary. Years are well spent in country labors; 
in town, in the insight into trades and manufactures; in frank inter- 
course with many men and women; in science; in art, — to the one 
end of mastering in all their facts a language by which to illustrate 
and embody our perceptions. I learn immediately from any speaker 
how much he has already lived, through the poverty or the splendor 
of his sjjeech. Life lies behind us as the quarry from whence we get 
tiles and cof)e-stones for the masonry of to-day. This is the way to 
learn grammar. Colleges and books only copy the language which 
the field and the workyard made. 

But the final value of action, like that of books, and better than 
books, is, that it is a resource. That great principle of Undulation 
in nature, that shows itself in the inspiring and expiring of the 
breath; in desire and satiety; in the ebb and flow of the sea; in day 
and night; in heat and cold; and as yet more deeply ingrained in 
every atom and every fluid, is known to us under the name of 
Polarity, — these "fits of easy transmission and reflection," as Newton 
called them, are the law of Nature because they are the law of 
spirit. 

The mind now thinks, now acts; and each fit reproduces the other. 
When the artist has exhausted his materials, when the fancy no 
longer paints, when thoughts are no longer apprehended, and books 
are a weariness, — he has always the resource to live. Character is 
higher than intellect. Thinking is the function. Living is the func- 
tionary. The stream retreats to its source. A great soul will be strong 
to live, as well as strong to think. Does he lack organ or medium 
to impart his truths? He can still fall back on this elemental force 
of living them. This is a total act. Thinking is a partial act. Let 
the grandeur of justice shine in his affairs. Let the beauty of affec- 
tion cheer his lowly roof. Those "far from fame," who dwell and 
act with him, will feel the force of his constitution in the doings 
and passages of the day better than it can be measured by any public 
and designed display. Time shall teach him that the scholar loses 
no hour which the man lives. Herein he unfolds the sacred germ 
of his instinct, screened from influence. What is lost in seemliness 
is gained in strength. Not out of those, on whom systems of educa- 



THE AMERICAN SCHOLAR 1 5 

tion have exhausted their culture, comes the helpful giant to destroy 
the old or to build the new, but out of unhandselled savage nature, 
out of terrible Druids and berserkirs, come at last Alfred and Shak- 
speare. 

I hear, therefore, with joy whatever is beginning to be said of the 
dignity and necessity of labor to every citizen. There is virtue yet in 
the hoe and the spade, for learned as well as for unlearned hands. 
And labor is everywhere welcome; always we are invited to work; 
only be this limitation observed, that a man shall not for the sake 
of wider activity sacrifice any opinion to the popular judgments 
and modes of action. 

I have now spoken of the education of the scholar by Nature, by 
books, and by action. It remains to say somewhat of his duties. 

They are such as become Man Thinking. They may all be com- 
prised in self-trust. The office of the scholar is to cheer, to raise, and 
to guide men by showing them facts amidst app>earances. He plies 
the slow, unhonored, and unpaid task of observation. Flamsteed 
and Herschel, in their glazed observatories, may catalogue the stars 
with the praise of all men, and, the results being splendid and useful, 
honor is sure. But he, in his private observatory, cataloguing obscure 
and nebulous stars of the human mind, which as yet no man has 
thought of as such, — watching days and months, sometimes, for a 
few facts; correcting still his old records, — must relinquish display 
and immediate fame. In the long period of his preparation he must 
betray often an ignorance and shiftlessness in popular arts, incurring 
the disdain of the able, who shoulder him aside. Long he must 
stammer in his sp)eech; often forego the living for the dead. Worse 
yet, he must accept — how often! — poverty and solitude. For the 
ease and pleasure of treading the old road, accepting the fashions, 
the education, the religion of society, he takes the cross of making 
his own, and, of course, the self-accusation, the faint heart, the fre- 
quent uncertainty and loss of time, which are the nettles and tan- 
gling vines in the way of the self-relying and self-directed; and the 
state of virtual hostility in which he seems to stand to society, and 
especially to educated society. For all this loss and scorn, what 
off-set? He is to find consolation in exercising the highest functions 



l6 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

of human nature. He is one who raises himself from private con- 
siderations, and breathes and lives on public and illustrious thoughts. 
He is the world's eye. He is the world's heart. He is to resist the 
vulgar prosf)erity that retrogrades ever to barbarism, by preserving 
and communicating heroic sentiments, noble biographies, melodious 
verse, and the conclusions of history. Whatsoever oracles the human 
heart, in all emergencies, in all solemn hours, has uttered as its com- 
mentary on the world of actions, — these he shall receive and impart. 
And whatsoever new verdict Reason from her inviolable seat pro- 
nounces on the passing men and events of to-day, — this he shall 
hear and promulgate. 

These being his functions, it becomes him to feel all confidence in 
himself, and to defer never to the popular cry. He and he only 
knows the world. The world of any moment is the merest appear- 
ance. Some great decorum, some fetish of a government, some 
ephemeral trade, or war, or man, is cried up by half mankind and 
cried down by the other half, as if all depended on this particular 
up or down. The odds are that the whole question is not worth the 
poorest thought which the scholar has lost in listening to the con- 
troversy. Let him not quit his belief that a popgun is a popgun, 
though the ancient and honorable of the earth affirm it to be the 
crack of doom. In silence, in steadiness, in severe abstraction, let 
him hold by himself; add observation to observation, patient of 
neglect, patient of reproach; and bide his own time, — happy enough 
if he can satisfy himself alone, that this day he has seen something 
truly. Success treads on every right step. For the instinct is sure 
that prompts him to tell his brother what he thinks. He then learns 
that in going down into the secrets of his own mind he has de- 
scended into the secrets of all minds. He learns that he who has 
mastered any law in his private thoughts is master to that extent 
of all men whose language he speaks, and of all into whose language 
his own can be translated. The poet, in utter solitude remembering 
his spontaneous thoughts and recording them, is found to have 
recorded that which men in crowded cities find true for them also. 
The orator distrusts at first the fitness of his frank confessions, — 
his want of knowledge of the persons he addresses, — until he finds 
that he is the complement of his hearers; that they drink his words 



THE AMERICAN SCHOLAR 1/ 

because he fulfils for them their own nature; the deeper he dives 
into his privatest, secretest presentiment, to his wonder he finds this 
is the most acceptable, most public, and universally true. The people 
delight in it; the better part of every man feels. This is my music; 
this is myself. 

In self-trust all the virtues are comprehended. Free should the 
scholar be, — free and brave. Free even to the definition of freedom, 
"without any hindrance that does not arise out of his own consti- 
tution." Brave; for fear is a thing which a scholar by his very 
function puts behind him. Fear always springs from ignorance. 
It is a shame to him if his tranquillity, amid dangerous times, arise 
from the presumption that, like children and women, his is a pro- 
tected class; or if he seek a temporary peace by the diversion of 
his thoughts from politics or vexed questions, hiding his head like 
an ostrich in the flowering bushes, peeping into microscopes, and 
turning rhymes, as a boy whistles to keep his courage up. So is 
the danger a danger still; so is the fear worse. Manlike let him 
turn and face it. Let him look into its eye and search its nature, 
inspect its origin, — see the whelping of this lion, which lies no great 
way back; he will then find in himself a perfect comprehension of 
its nature and extent; he will have made his hands meet on the other 
side, and can henceforth defy it, and pass on superior. The world 
is his, who can see through its pretension. What deafness, what 
stone-blind custom, what overgrown error you behold, is there only 
by sufferance, — by your sufferance. See it to be a lie, and you have 
already dealt it its mortal blow. 

Yes, we are the cowed — we the trustless. It is a mischievous notion 
that we are come late into Nature; that the world was finished a 
long time ago. As the world was plastic and fluid in the hands of 
God, so it is ever to so much of his attributes as we bring to it. 
To ignorance and sin, it is flint. They adapt themselves to it as they 
may; but in proportion as a man has anything in him divine, the 
firmament flows before him and takes his signet and form. Not 
he is great who can alter matter, but he who can alter my state of 
mind. They are the kings of the world who give the color of their 
present thought to all nature and all art, and persuade men by the 
cheerful serenity of their carrying the matter, that this thing which 



1 8 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

they do is the apple which the ages have desired to pluck, now at 
last ripe, and inviting nations to the harvest. The great man makes 
the great thing. Wherever Macdonald sits, there is the head of the 
table. Linnaeus makes botany the most alluring of studies, and wins 
it from the farmer and the herb-woman; Davy, chemistry; and 
Cuvier, fossils. The day is always his, who works in it with serenity 
and great aims. The unstable estimates of men crowd to him whose 
mind is filled with a truth, as the heaped waves of the Atlantic 
follow the moon. 

For this self-trust, the reason is deeper than can be fathomed, 
darker than can be enlightened. I might not carry with me the 
feeling of my audience in stating my own belief. But I have already 
shown the ground of my hope, in adverting to the doctrine that 
man is one. I believe man has been wronged; he has wronged him- 
self. He has almost lost the light that can lead him back to his 
prerogatives. Men are become of no account. Men in history, men 
in the world of to-day are bugs, are spawn, and are called "the mass" 
and "the herd." In a century, in a millennium, one or two men; 
that is to say, one or two approximations to the right state of every 
man. All the rest behold in the hero or the poet their own green 
and crude being, — ripened; yes, and are content to be less, so that 
may attain to its full stature. What a testimony, full of grandeur, 
full of pity, is borne to the demands of his own nature by the f)oor 
clansman, the jxxjr partisan, who rejoices in the glory of his chief. 
The poor and the low find some amends to their immense moral 
capacity for their acquiescence in a political and social inferiority. 
They are content to be brushed like flies from the path of a great 
person, so that justice shall be done by him to that common nature 
which it is the dearest desire of all to see enlarged and glorified. 
They sun themselves in the great man's light, and feel it to be their 
own element. They cast the dignity of man from their downtrod 
selves upon the shoulders of a hero, and will parish to add one drop 
of blood to make that great heart beat, those giant sinews combat 
and conquer. He lives for us, and we live in him. 

Men such as they are, very naturally seek money or power; and 
power because it is as good as money, — the "spoils," so called, "of 
office." And why not? for they aspire to the highest, and this, in 



THE AMERICAN SCHOLAR 19 

their sleep-walking, they dream is highest. Wake them, and they 
shall quit the false good, and leap to the true, and leave governments 
to clerks and desks. This revolution is to be wrought by the gradual 
domestication of the idea of Culture. The main enterprise of the 
world for splendor, for extent, is the upbuilding of a man. Here are 
the materials strewn along the ground. The private life of one 
man shall be a more illustrious monarchy, — more formidable to its 
enemy, more sweet and serene in its influence to its friend, than any 
kingdom in history. For a man, rightly viewed, comprehendeth the 
particular natures of all men. Each philosopher, each bard, each 
actor, has only done for me, as by a delegate, what one day I can 
do for myself. The books which once we valued more than the apple 
of the eye we have quite exhausted. What is that but saying that 
we have come up with the point of view which the universal mind 
took through the eyes of one scribe; we have been that man, and 
have passed on. First one, then another, we drain all cisterns, and, 
waxing greater by all these supplies, we crave a better and more 
abundant food. The man has never lived that can feed us ever. 
The human mind cannot be enshrined in a person who shall set a 
barrier on any one side to this unbounded, unboundable empire. It is 
one central fire, which, flaming now out of the lips of Etna, lightens 
the capes of Sicily; and now out of the throat of Vesuvius, illumi- 
nates the towers and vineyards of Naples. It is one light which 
beams out of a thousand stars. It is one soul which animates all men. 

But I have dwelt perhaps tediously upon this abstraction of the 
Scholar. I ought not to delay longer to add what I have to say of 
nearer reference to the time and to this country. 

Historically there is thought to be a difference in the ideas which 
predominate over successive epochs, and there are data for marking 
the genius of the Classic, of the Romantic, and now of the Reflective 
or Philosophical age. With the views I have intimated of the oneness 
or the identity of the mind through all individuals, I do not much 
dwell on these differences. In fact, I believe each individual passes 
through all three. The boy is a Greek; the youth, romantic; the 
adult, reflective. I deny not, however, that a revolution in the 
leading idea may be distincdy enough traced. 



20 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

Our age is bewailed as the age of Introversion. Must that needs 
be evil? We, it seems, are critical; we are embarrassed with second 
thoughts; we cannot enjoy anything for hankering to know whereof 
the pleasure consists; we are lined with eyes; we see with our feet; 
the time is infected with Hamlet's unhappiness, — 

"Sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought." 

Is it so bad then? Sight is the last thing to be pitied. Would we 
be blind ? Do we fear lest we should outsee Nature and God, and 
drink truth dry ? I look upon the discontent of the literary class as 
a mere announcement of the fact that they find themselves not in 
the state of mind of their fathers, and regret the coming state as 
untried; as a boy dreads the water before he has learned that he can 
swim. If there is any period one would desire to be born in, is it 
not the age of Revolution; when the old and the new stand side by 
side, and admit of being compared; when the energies of all men 
are searched by fear and by hope; when the historic glories of the 
old can be comp)ensated by the rich possibilities of the new era? 
This time, like all times, is a very good one, if we but know what 
to do with it. 

I read with joy some of the auspicious signs of the coming days, 
as they glimmer already through poetry and art, through philosophy 
and science, through church and state. 

One of these signs is the fact that the same movement which 
affected the elevation of what was called the lowest class in the 
state, assumed in literature a very marked and as benign an asp)ect. 
Instead of the sublime and beautiful; the near, the low, the common, 
was explored and poetized. That which had been negligently trod- 
den under foot by those who were harnessing and provisioning 
themselves for long journeys into far countries, is suddenly found 
to be richer than all foreign parts. The literature of the poor, the 
feelings of the child, the philosophy of the street, the meaning of 
household life, are the topics of the time. It is a great stride. It is 
a sign, is it not ? of new vigor, when the extremities are made active, 
when currents of warm life run into the hands and feet. I ask not 
for the great, the remote, the romantic; what is doing in Italy or 
Arabia; what is Greek art or Provencal minstrelsy; I embrace the 



THE AMERICAN SCHOLAR 21 

common, I explore and sit at the feet of the famiUar, the low. Give 
me insight into to-day, and you may have the antique and future 
worlds. What would we really know the meaning of? The meal 
in the firkin, the milk in the pan, the ballad in the street, the news 
of the boat, the glance of the eye, the form and the gait of the 
body, — show me the ultimate reason of these matters; show me the 
sublime presence of the highest spiritual cause lurking, as always it 
does lurk, in these suburbs and extremities of nature; let me see 
every trifle bristling with the polarity that ranges it instantly on an 
eternal law; and the shop, the plough, and the ledger, referred to 
the like cause by which light undulates and poets sing; — and the 
world lies no longer a dull miscellany and lumber-room, but has 
form and order; there is no trifle, there is no puzzle, but one design 
unites and animates the farthest pinnacle and the lowest trench. 

This idea has inspired the genius of Goldsmith, Burns, Cowper, 
and, in a newer time, of Goethe, Wordsworth, and Carlyle. This 
idea they have differently followed and with various success. In 
contrast with their writing, the style of Pope, of Johnson, of Gibbon, 
looks cold and pedantic. This writing is blood-warm. Man is sur- 
prised to find that things near are not less beautiful and wondrous 
than things remote. The near explains the far. The drop is a small 
ocean. A man is related to all nature. This [perception of the worth 
of the vulgar is fruitful in discoveries. Goethe, in this very thing 
the most modern of the moderns, has shown us, as none ever did, 
the genius of the ancients. 

There is one man of genius who has done much for this philos- 
ophy of hfe, whose literary value has never yet been rightly esti- 
mated; I mean Emanuel Swedenborg. The most imaginative of 
men, yet writing with the precision of a mathematician, he endeav- 
ored to engraft a purely philosophical Ethics on the popular Chris- 
tianity of his time. Such an attempt, of course, must have difficulty 
which no genius could surmount. But he saw and showed the 
connection between nature and the affections of the soul. He pierced 
the emblematic or spiritual character of the visible, audible, tangible 
world. Especially did his shade-loving muse hover over and inter- 
pret the lower parts of nature; he showed the mysterious bond that 
allies moral evil to the foul material forms, and has given in epical 



22 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

parables a theory of insanity, of beasts, of unclean and fearful things. 
Another sign of our times, also marked by an analogous political 
movement, is the new importance given to the single (jerson. Every- 
thing that tends to insulate the individual — to surround him with 
barriers of natural respect, so that each man shall feel the world is 
his and man shall treat with man as a sovereign state with a sover- 
eign state — tends to true union as well as greatness. "I learned," 
said the melancholy Pestalozzi, "that no man in God's wide earth 
is either willing or able to help any other man." Help must come 
from the bosom alone. The scholar is that man who must take up 
into himself all the ability of the time, all the contributions of the 
past, all the hopes of the future. He must be a university of knowl- 
edges. If there be one lesson more than another which should pierce 
his ear, it is. The world is nothing, the man is all; in yourself is 
the law of all nature, and you know not yet how a globule of sap 
ascends; in yourself slumbers the whole of Reason; it is for you 
to know all, it is for you to dare all. Mr. President and Gentlemen, 
this confidence in the unsearched might of man belongs, by all 
motives, by all prophecy, by all preparation, to the American Scholar. 
We have listened too long to the courtly muses of Europe. The 
spirit of the American freeman is already susjsected to be timid, 
imitative, tame. Public and private avarice make the air we breathe 
thick and fat. The scholar is decent, indolent, complaisant. See 
already the tragic consequence. The mind of this country, taught 
to aim at low objects, eats upon itself. There is no work for any 
but the decorous and the complaisant. Young men of the fairest 
promise, who begin life upon our shores, inflated by the mountain 
winds, shined upon by all the stars of God, find the earth below not 
in unison with these, but are hindered from action by the disgust 
which the principles on which business is managed inspire, and 
turn drudges or die of disgust — some of them suicides. What is the 
remedy? They did not yet see, and thousands of young men as 
hopeful now crowding to the barriers for the career do not yet see, 
that if the single man plant himself indomitably on his instincts, 
and there abide, the huge world will come round to him. Patience, 
patience; with the shades of all the good and great for company; 
and for solace, the perspective of your own infinite life; and for 



THE AMERICAN SCHOLAR 23 

work, the study and the communication of principles, the making 
those instincts prevalent, the conversion of the world. Is it not the 
chief disgrace in the world not to be a unit, not to be reckoned 
one character, not to yield that peculiar fruit; which each man was 
created to bear; but to be reckoned in the gross, in the hundred, or 
the thousand, of the party, the section, to which we belong; and 
our opinion predicted geographically, as the north, or the south? 
Not so, brothers and friends, — please God, ours shall not be so. We 
will walk on our own feet; we will work with our own hands; we 
will speak our own minds. The study of letters shall be no longer 
a name for pity, for doubt, and for sensual indulgence. The dread 
of man and the love of man shall be a wall of defence and a wreath 
of joy around all. A nation of men will for the first time exist, 
because each believes himself inspired by the Divine Soul which 
also inspires all men. 



AN ADDRESS 

Delivered Before the Senior Class in Divinity College, 
Cambridge, Sunday Evening, July 15, 1838 

IN this refulgent summer it has been a luxury to draw the 
breath of life. The grass grows, the buds burst, the meadow 
is spotted with fire and gold in the tint of flowers. The air 
is full of birds, and sweet with the breath of the pine, the balm-of- 
Gilead, and the new hay. Night brings no gloom to the heart with 
its welcome shade. Through the transparent darkness the stars pour 
their almost spiritual rays. Man under them seems a young child, 
and his huge globe a toy. The cool night bathes the world as with 
a river, and prepares his eyes again for the crimson dawn. The 
mystery of nature was never displayed more happily. The corn 
and the wine have been freely dealt to all creatures, and the never- 
broken silence with which the old bounty goes forward has not 
yielded yet one word of explanation. One is constrained to respect 
the perfection of this world, in which our senses converse. How 
wide, how rich, what invitation from every property it gives to 
every faculty of man! In its fruitful soils; in its navigable sea; in 
its mountains of metal and stone; in its forests of all woods; in its 
animals; in its chemical ingredients; in the (xjwers and path of 
light, heat, attraction, and life, — it is well worth the pith and heart 
of great men to subdue and enjoy it. The planters, the mechanics, 
the inventors, the astronomers, the builders of cities and the captains, 
history delights to honor. 

But when the mind opens, and reveals the laws which traverse 
the universe, and make things what they are, then shrinks the great 
world at once into a mere illustration and fable of this mind. What 
am I? and What is? asks the human spirit with a curiosity new- 
kindled, but never to be quenched. Behold these outrunning laws, 
which our impjerfect apprehension can see tend this way and that, 
but not come full circle. Behold these infinite relations, so like, so 



26 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

unlike; many, yet one. I would study, I would know, I would 
admire forever. These works of thought have been the entertain- 
ments of the human spirit in all ages. 

A more secret, sweet, and overpowering beauty appears to man 
when his heart and mind open to the sentiment of virtue. Then he 
is instructed in what is above him. He learns that his being is with- 
out bound; that to the good, to the perfect, he is born, low as he now 
lies in evil and weakness. That which he venerates is still his own, 
though he has not realized it yet. He ought. He knows the sense 
of that grand word, though his analysis fails entirely to render 
account of it. When in innocency, or when by intellectual per- 
ception, he attains to say: — "I love the Right; Truth is beautiful 
within and without forevermore. Virtue, I am thine; save me; use 
me; thee will I serve, day and night, in great, in small, that I may 
be not virtuous, but virtue;" — then is the end of the creation an- 
swered, and God is well pleased. 

The sentiment of virtue is a reverence and delight in the presence 
of certain divine laws. It perceives that this homely game of life we 
play, covers, under what seem foolish details, principles that astonish. 
The child amidst his baubles is learning the action of light, motion, 
gravity, muscular force; and in the game of human life, love, fear, 
justice, appetite, man, and God interact. These laws refuse to be 
adequately stated. They will not be written out on paper, or spoken 
by the tongue. They elude our persevering thought; yet we read 
them hourly in each other's faces, in each other's actions, in our own 
remorse. The moral traits which are all globed into every virtuous 
act and thought, — in speech, we must sever, and describe or suggest 
by painful enumeration of many particulars. Yet, as this sentiment 
is the essence of all religion, let me guide your eye to the precise 
objects of the sentiment, by an enumeration of some of those classes 
of facts in which this element is conspicuous. 

The intuition of the moral sentiment is an insight of the perfection 
of the laws of the soul. These laws execute themselves. They are 
out of time, out of space, and not subject to circumstance. Thus, 
in the soul of man there is a justice whose retributions are instant 
and entire. He who does a good deed is instantly ennobled. He 
who does a mean deed is by the action itself contracted. He who 



ADDRESS TO DIVINITY STUDENTS T] 

puts off impurity, thereby puts on purity. If a man is at heart just, 
then in so far is he God; the safety of God, the immortaUty of 
God, the majesty of God, do enter into that man with justice. If a 
man dissemble, deceive, he deceives himself, and goes out of ac- 
quaintance with his own being. A man in the view of absolute good- 
ness adores with total humility. Every step so downward is a step 
upward. The man who renounces himself comes to himself. 

See how this rapid intrinsic energy worketh everywhere, righting 
wrongs, correcting appearances, and bringing up facts to a harmony 
with thoughts. Its operation in life, though slow to the senses, is, at 
last, as sure as in the soul. By it, a man is made the Providence to 
himself, dispensing good to his goodness, and evil to his sin. Char- 
acter is always known. Thefts never enrich; alms never impoverish; 
murder will speak out of stone walls. The least admixture of a lie — 
for example, the taint of vanity, the least attempt to make a good 
impression, a favorable appearance — will instantly vitiate the effect. 
But speak the truth, and all nature and all spirits help you with 
unexpected furtherance. Speak the truth, and all things alive or 
brute are vouchers, and the very roots of the grass underground there 
do seem to stir and move to bear you witness. See again the per- 
fection of the Law as it applies itself to the affections, and becomes 
the law of society. As we are, so we associate. The good, by affinity, 
seek the good; the vile, by affinity, the vile. Thus of their own 
volition souls proceed into heaven, into hell. 

These facts have always suggested to man the sublime creed, that 
the world is not the product of manifold power, but of one will, 
of one mind; and that one mind is everywhere active, in each ray 
of the star, in each wavelet of the pxxjl; and whatever opposes that 
will is everywhere balked and baffled, because things are made so, 
and not otherwise. Good is positive. Evil is merely privative, not 
absolute: it is like cold, which is the privation of heat. All evil is 
so much death or nonentity. Benevolence is absolute and real. So 
much benevolence as a man hath, so much life hath he. For all 
things proceed out of this same spirit, which is differently named 
love, justice, temperance, in its different applications, just as the 
ocean receives different names on the several shores which it washes. 
All things proceed out of the same spirit, and all things conspire 



28 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

with it. Whilst a man seeks good ends, he is strong by the whole 
strength of Nature. In so far as he roves from these ends, he 
bereaves himself of power, of auxiliaries; his being shrinks out of 
all remote channels, he becomes less and less, a mote, a point, until 
absolute badness is absolute death. 

The perception of this law of laws awakens in the mind a senti- 
ment which we call the religious sentiment, and which makes our 
highest happiness. Wonderful is its power to charm and to com- 
mand. It is a mountain air. It is the embalmer of the world. It is 
myrrh and storax, and chlorine and rosemary. It makes the sky 
and the hills sublime, and the silent song of the stars is it. By it is 
the universe made safe and habitable, not by science or power. 
Thought may work cold and intransitive in things, and find no end 
or unity; but the dawn of the sentiment of virtue on the heart gives 
and is the assurance that Law is sovereign over all natures; and the 
worlds, time, space, eternity, do seem to break out into joy. 

This sentiment is divine and deifying. It is the beatitude of man. 
It makes him illimitable. Through it the soul first knows itself. It 
corrects the capital mistake of the infant man, who seeks to be great 
by following the great, and hopes to derive advantages from another, 
by showing the fountain of all good to be in himself, and that he, 
equally with every man, is an inlet into the deeps of Reason. When 
he says, "I ought;" when love warns him; when he chooses, warned 
from on high, the good and the great deed, — then deep melodies 
wander through his soul from Supreme Wisdom. Then he can 
worship, and be enlarged by his worship; for he can never go behind 
this sentiment. In the sublimest flights of the soul, rectitude is never 
surmounted, love is never outgrown. 

This sentiment lies at the foundation of society, and successively 
creates all forms of worship. The principle of veneration never dies 
out. Man fallen into suf)erstition, into sensuality, is never quite 
without the visions of the moral sentiment. In like manner all the 
expressions of this sentiment are sacred and permanent in proportion 
to their purity. The expressions of this sentiment affect us more 
than all other compositions. The sentences of the oldest time, which 
ejaculate this piety, are still fresh and fragrant. This thought dwelled 
always deepest in the minds of men in the devout and contemplative 



ADDRESS TO DIVINITY STUDENTS 29 

East; not alone in Palestine, where it reached its purest expression, 
but in Egypt, in Persia, in India, in China. Europe has always owed 
to Oriental genius its divine impulses. What these holy bards said, 
all sane men found agreeable and true. And the unique impression 
of Jesus upon mankind, whose name is not so much written as 
ploughed into the history of this world, is proof of the subde virtue 
of this infusion. 

Meantime, whilst the doors of the temple stand open, night and 
day, before every man, and the oracles of this truth cease never, it 
is guarded by one stern condition; this, namely, it is an intuition. It 
cannot be received at second hand. Truly speaking, it is not instruc- 
tion, but provocation, that I can receive from another soul. What he 
announces, I must find true in me, or wholly reject; and on his 
word, or as his second, be he who he may, I can accept nothing. 
On the contrary, the absence of this primary faith is the presence of 
degradation. As is the flood, so is the ebb. Let this faith depart, 
and the very words it spake, and the things it made, become false 
and hurtful. Then falls the church, the state, art, letters, life. The 
doctrine of the divine nature being forgotten, a sickness infects and 
dwarfs the constitution. Once man was all; now he is an appendage, 
a nuisance. And because the indwelling Supreme Spirit cannot 
wholly be got rid of, the doctrine of it suffers this perversion, that 
the divine nature is attributed to one or two persons, and denied to 
all the rest, and denied with fury. The doctrine of inspiration is 
lost; the base doctrine of the majority of voices usurps the place of 
the doctrine of the soul. Miracles, prophecy, pxjetry; the ideal Ufe, 
the holy life, exist as ancient history merely; they are not in the 
belief nor in the aspiration of society; but, when suggested, seem 
ridiculous. Life is comic or pitiful as soon as the high ends of being 
fade out of sight, and man becomes nearsighted, and can only attend 
to what addresses the senses. 

These general views, which, whilst they are general, none will 
contest, find abundant illustration in the history of religion, and 
especially in the history of the Christian church. In that, all of us 
have had our birth and nurture. The truth contained in that, you, 
my young friends, are now setting forth to teach. As the Cultus, or 
established worship of the civilized world, it has great historical 



3© RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

interest for us. Of its blessed words, which have been the consolation 
of humanity, you need not that I should speak. I shall endeavor to 
discharge my duty to you, on this occasion, by pointing out two 
errors in its administration, which daily appear more gross from the 
point of view we have just now taken. 

Jesus Christ belonged to the true race of prophets. He saw with 
open eye the mystery of the soul. Drawn by its severe harmony, 
ravished with its beauty, he lived in it, and had his being there. 
Alone in all history, he estimated the greatness of man. One man 
was true to what was in you and me. He saw that God incarnates 
himself in man, and evermore goes forth anew to take possession of 
his world. He said, in this jubilee of sublime emotion: — "I am di- 
vine. Through me, God acts; through me, speaks. Would you see 
God, see me; or, see thee, when thou also thinkest as I now think." 
But what a distortion did his doctrine and memory suffer in the 
same, in the next, and the following ages! There is no doctrine 
of the Reason which will bear to be taught by the Understanding. 
The understanding caught this high chant from the poet's lips, and 
said, in the next age: — "This was Jehovah come down out of heaven. 
I will kill you if you say he was a man." The idioms of his language 
and the figures of his rhetoric have usurped the place of his truth; 
and churches are not built on his principles, but on his tropes. 
Christianity became a Mythus, as the poetic teaching of Greece and 
of Egypt, before. He spoke of miracles; for he felt that man's life 
was a miracle, and all that man doth, and he knew that this daily 
miracle shines, as the character ascends. But the word "miracle," 
as pronounced by Christian churches, gives a false impression; it is 
"monster." It is not one with the blowing clover and the falling rain. 

He felt respect for Moses and the prophets; but no unfit tender- 
ness at postponing their initial revelations to the hour and the man 
that now is, to the eternal revelation in the heart. Thus was he a 
true man. Having seen that the law in us is commanding he would 
not suffer it to be commanded. Boldly, with hand, and heart, and 
life, he declared it was God. Thus is he, as I think, the only soul 
in history who has appreciated the worth of a man. 

I. In this point of view we become very sensible of the first defect 
of historical Christianity. Historical Christianity has fallen into the 



ADDRESS TO DIVINITY STUDENTS 3 1 

error that corrupts all attempts to communicate religion. As it 
appears to us, and as it has appeared for ages, it is not the doctrine 
of the soul, but an exaggeration of the personal, the positive, the 
ritual. It has dwelt, it dwells, with noxious exaggeration about the 
person of Jesus. The soul knows no persons. It invites every man 
to expand to the full circle of the universe, and will have no prefer- 
ences but those of spontaneous love. But by this Eastern monarchy 
of a Christianity, which indolence and fear have built, the friend 
of man is made the injurer of man. The manner in which his name 
is surrounded with expressions, which were once sallies of admira- 
tion and love, but are now petrified into official titles, kills all gen- 
erous sympathy and liking. All who hear me, feel that the language 
that describes Christ to Europe and America is not the style of 
friendship and enthusiasm to a good and noble heart, but is appro- 
priated and formal, — paints a demigod, as the Orientals or the 
Greeks would describe Osiris or Apollo. Accept the injurious impo- 
sitions of our early catechetical instruction, and even honesty and 
self-denial were but splendid sins if they did not wear the Christian 
name. One would rather be 

"A pagan, suckled in a creed outworn," 

than to be defrauded of his manly right in coming into nature, and 
finding not names and places, not land and professions, but even 
virtue and truth, foreclosed and monopolized. You shall not be a 
man even. You shall not own the world; you shall not dare, and live 
after the infinite Law that is in you, and in company with the in- 
finite Beauty which heaven and earth reflect to you in all lovely 
forms; but you must subordinate your nature to Christ's nature, 
you must accept our interpretations, and take his portrait as the 
vulgar draw it. 

That is always best which gives me to myself. The sublime is 
excited in me by the great stoical doctrine. Obey thyself. That which 
shows God in me, fortifies me. That which shows God out of me, 
makes me a wart and a wen. There is no longer a necessary reason 
for my being. Already the long shadows of untimely oblivion creep 
over me, and I shall decease forever. 

The divine bards are the friends of my virtue, of my intelleci^ of 



32 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

my strength. They admonish me that the gleams which flash across 
my mind are not mine, but God's; that they had the Uke, and were 
not disobedient to the heavenly vision. So I love them. Noble prov- 
ocations go out from them, inviting me to resist evil, to subdue the 
world, and to Be. And thus by his holy thoughts Jesus serves us, 
and thus only. To aim to convert a man by miracles is a profanation 
of the soul. A true conversion, a true Christ, is now, as always, to 
be made by the reception of beautiful sentiments. It is true that a 
great and rich soul, like his, falling among the simple, does so 
preponderate, that, as his did, it names the world. The world seems 
to them to exist for him, and they have not yet drunk so deeply of 
his sense as to see that only by coming again to themselves, or to 
God in themselves, can they grow forevermore. It is a low benefit 
to give me something; it is a high benefit to enable me to do some- 
what of myself. The time is coming when all men will see that the 
gift of God to the soul is not a vaunting, overjxjwering, excluding 
sanctity, but a sweet, natural goodness, a goodness like thine and 
mine, and that so invites thine and mine to be and to grow. 

The injustice of the vulgar tone of preaching is not less flagrant to 
Jesus than to the souls which it profanes. The preachers do not see 
that they make his gospel not glad, and shear him of the locks of 
beauty and the attributes of heaven. When I see a majestic Epami- 
nondas or Washington; when I see among my contemporaries a 
true orator, an upright judge, a dear friend; when I vibrate to the 
melody and fancy of a poem, — I see beauty that is to be desired. 
And so lovely, and with yet more entire consent of my human being, 
sounds in my ear the severe music of the bards that have sung of 
the true God in all ages. Now, do not degrade the life and dialogues 
of Christ out of the circle of this charm, by insulation and peculi- 
arity. Let them lie as they befell, alive and warm, part of human 
life, and of the landscape, and of the cheerful day. 

2. The second defect of the traditionary and limited way of using 
the mind of Christ is a consequence of the first; this, namely, that 
the Moral Nature, that law of laws, whose revelations introduce 
greatness, yea, God himself, into the open soul, is not explored as 
the fountain of the estabhshed teaching in society. Men have come 
to speak of the revelation as somewhat long ago given and done, as 



ADDRESS TO DIVINITY STtTDENTS 33 

if God were dead. The injury to faith throttles the preacher, and the 
goodliest of institutions becomes an uncertain and inarticulate voice. 

It is very certain that it is the effect of conversation with the 
beauty of the soul, to beget a desire and need to impart to others the 
knowledge and love. If utterance is denied, the thought lies like a 
burden on the man. Always the seer is a sayer. Somehow his dream 
is told; somehow he publishes it with solemn joy; sometimes with 
pencil on canvas; sometimes with chisel on stone; sometimes in 
towers and aisles of granite his soul's worship is builded; sometimes 
in anthems of indefinite music; but clearest and most permanent, 
in words. 

The man enamored of this excellency becomes its priest or poet. 
The office is coeval with the world. But observe the condition, the 
spiritual limitation of the office. The spirit only can teach. Not any 
profane man, not any sensual, not any liar, not any slave can teach, 
but only he can give, who has; he only can create, who is. The man 
on whom the soul descends, through whom the soul speaks, alone 
can teach. Courage, piety, love, wisdom, can teach; and every man 
can of)en his door to these angels, and they shall bring him the gift 
of tongues. But the man who aims to speak as books enable, as 
synods use, as the fashion guides, and as interest commands, babbles. 
Let him hush. 

To this holy office you propose to devote yourselves. I wish you 
may feel your call in throbs of desire and hope. The office is the 
first in the world. It is of that reality, that it cannot suffer the 
deduction of any falsehood. And it is my duty to say to you, that 
the need was never greater of new revelation than now. From the 
views I have already expressed, you will infer the sad conviction, 
which I share, I believe, with numbers, of the universal decay and 
now almost death of faith in society. The soul is not preached. The 
Church seems to totter to its fall, almost all life extinct. On this 
occasion any complaisance would be criminal which told you, whose 
hope and commission it is to preach the faith of Christ, that the 
faith of Christ is preached. 

It is time that this ill-suppressed murmur of all thoughtful men 
against the famine of our churches; this moaning of the heart be- 
cause it is bereaved of the consolation, the hope, the grandeur, that 



34 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

come alone out of the culture of the moral nature, — should be heard 
through the sleep of indolence and over the din of routine. This 
great and perpetual office of the preacher is not discharged. Preach- 
ing is the expression of the moral sentiment in application to the 
duties of life. In how many churches, by how many prophets, tell 
me, is man made sensible that he is an infinite soul; that the earth 
and heavens are passing into his mind; that he is drinking forever 
the soul of God ? Where now sounds the persuasion, that by its very 
melody imparadises my heart, and so affirms its own origin in 
heaven? Where shall I hear words such as in elder ages drew men 
to leave all and follow, — father and mother, house and land, wife 
and child? Where shall I hear these august laws of moral being 
so pronounced as to fill my ear, and I feel ennobled by the offer 
of my uttermost action and passion? The test of the true faith, 
certainly, should be its power to charm and command the soul, as 
the laws of nature control the activity of the hands, — so commanding 
that we find pleasure and honor in obeying. The faith should blend 
with the Ught of rising and of setting suns, with the flying cloud, 
the singing bird, and the breath of flowers. But now the priest's 
Sabbath has lost the splendor of nature; it is unlovely; we are glad 
when it is done; we can make, we do make, even sitting in our 
pews, a far better, holier, sweeter, for ourselves. 

Wherever the pulpit is usurped by a formalist, then is the wor- 
shipper defrauded and disconsolate. We shrink as soon as the pray- 
ers begin, which do not uplift, but smite and offend us. We are fain 
to wrap our cloaks about us, and secure, as best we can, a solitude 
that hears not. I once heard a preacher who sorely tempted me to 
say I would go to church no more. Men go, thought I, where they 
are wont to go, else had no soul entered the temple in the afternoon. 
A snow-storm was falling around us. The snow-storm was real; the 
preacher merely spectral; and the eye felt the sad contrast in looking 
at him, and then out of the window behind him, into the beautiful 
meteor of the snow. He had lived in vain. He had no one word 
intimating that he had laughed or wept, was married or in love, 
had been commended, or cheated, or chagrined. If he had ever lived 
and acted, we were none the wiser for it. The capital secret of his 
profession, namely, to convert life into truth, he had not learned. 



ADDRESS TO DIVINITY STXTOENTS 35 

Not one fact in all his experience had he yet imported into his doc- 
trine. This man had ploughed and planted, and talked, and bought, 
and sold; he had read books; he had eaten and drunken; his head 
aches; his heart throbs; he smiles and suffers; yet was there not a 
surmise, a hint, in all the discourse, that he had ever lived at all. 
Not a line did he draw out of real history. The true preacher can 
be known by this, that he deals out to the people his life, — life passed 
through the fire of thought. But of the bad preacher, it could not 
be told from his sermon what age of the world he fell in; whether 
he had a father or a child; whether he was a freeholder or a pauper; 
whether he was a citizen or a countryman; or any other fact of his 
biography. It seemed strange that the people should come to church. 
It seemed as if their houses were very unentertaining, that they 
should prefer this thoughtless clamor. It shows that there is a com- 
manding attraction in the moral sentiment that can lend a faint tint 
of light to dulness and ignorance, coming in its name and place. 
The good hearer is sure he has been touched sometimes; is sure there 
is somewhat to be reached, and some word that can reach it. When 
he listens to these vain words, he comforts himself by their relation 
to his remembrance of better hours, and so they clatter and echo 
unchallenged. 

I am not ignorant that when we preach unworthily, it is not 
always quite in vain. There is a good ear, in some men, that draws 
supplies to virtue out of very indifferent nutriment. There is poetic 
truth concealed in all the common-places of prayer and of sermons, 
and though foolishly spoken, they may be wisely heard; for each 
is some select expression that broke out in a moment of piety from 
some stricken or jubilant soul, and its excellency made it remem- 
bered. The prayers and even the dogmas of our church are like the 
zodiac of Denderah, and the astronomical monuments of the Hin- 
doos, wholly insulated from anything now extant in the Ufe and 
business of the people. They mark the height to which the waters 
once rose. But this docility is a check upon the mischief from the 
good and devout. In a large pwrtion of the community, the religious 
service gives rise to quite other thoughts and emotions. We need 
not chide the negligent servant. We are struck with pity, rather, 
at the swift retribution of his sloth. Alas for the imhappy man that 



36 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

is called to stand in the pulpit, and not give bread of life! Every- 
thing that befalls, accuses him. Would he ask contributions for the 
missions, foreign or domestic? Instantly his face is suffused with 
shame, to propose to his parish that they should send money a 
hundred or a thousand miles, to furnish such poor fare as they have 
at home, and would do well to go the hundred or the thousand 
miles to escape. Would he urge people to a godly way of living; 
and can he ask a fellow<reature to come to Sabbath meetings, when 
he and they all know what is the poor uttermost they can hope for 
therein? Will he invite them privately to the Lx)rd's Supper? He 
dares not. If no heart warm this rite, the hollow, dry, creaking 
formality is too plain, than that he can face a man of wit and 
energy, and put the invitation without terror. In the street, what 
has he to say to the bold village blasphemer ? The village blasphemer 
sees fear in the face, form, and gait of the minister. 

Let me not taint the sincerity of this plea by any oversight of the 
claims of good men. I know and honor the purity and strict con- 
science of numbers of the clergy. What life the public worship 
retains, it owes to the scattered company of pious men who minister 
here and there in the churches, and who, sometimes accepting with 
too great tenderness the tenet of the elders, have not accepted from 
others, but from their own heart, the genuine impulses of virtue, 
and so still command our love and awe, to the sanctity of character. 
Moreover, the exceptions are not so much to be found in a few 
eminent preachers, as in the better hours, the truer inspirations of 
all, — nay, in the sincere moments of every man. But with whatever 
exception, it is still true that tradition characterizes the preaching 
of this country; that it comes out of the memory and not out of 
the soul; that it aims at what is usual and not at what is necessary 
and eternal; that thus historical Christianity destroys the power of 
preaching, by withdrawing it from the exploration of the moral 
nature of man, where the sublime is, where are the resources of 
astonishment and power. What a cruel injustice it is to that Law, 
the joy of the whole earth, which alone can make thought dear and 
rich; that Law whose fatal sureness the astronomical orbits poorly 
emulate, that it is travestied and depreciated, that it is behooted and 
behowled, and not a trait, not a word of it articulated. The pulpit 



ADDRESS TO DIVINITY STUDENTS yj 

in losing sight of this Law loses its reason, and gropes after it knows 
not what. And for want of this culture the soul of the community 
is sick and faithless. It wants nothing so much as a stern, high, 
stoical, Christian discipline, to make it know itself and the divinity 
that speaks through it. Now man is ashamed of himself; he skulks 
and sneaks through the world, to be tolerated, to be pitied, and 
scarcely in a thousand years does any man dare to be wise and good, 
and so draw after him the tears and blessings of his kind. 

Certainly there have been periods when, from the inactivity of 
the intellect on certain truths, a greater faith was possible in names 
and persons. The Puritans in England and America found in the 
Christ of the Catholic Church, and in the dogmas inherited from 
Rome, scope for their austere piety and their longings for civil free- 
dom. But their creed is passing away, and none arises in its room. 
I think no man can go with his thoughts about him into one of 
our churches, without feeling that what hold the public worship 
had on men is gone, or going. It has lost its grasp on the affection 
of the good and the fear of the bad. In the country, neighborhoods, 
half parishes are signing off, — to use the local term. It is already 
beginning to indicate character and religion to withdraw from the 
religious meetings. I have heard a devout person who prized the 
Sabbath say in bitterness of heart: — "On Sundays it seems wicked 
to go to church." And the motive that holds the best there, is now 
only a hope and a waiting. What was once a mere circumstance, 
that the best and the worst men in the parish, the poor and the 
rich, the learned and the ignorant, young and old, should meet 
one day as fellows in one house, in sign of an equal right in the 
soul, — has come to be a paramount motive for going thither. 

My friends, in these two errors I think I find the causes of a decay- 
ing church and a wasting unbelief. And what greater calamity can 
fall upon a nation than the loss of worship? Then all things go to 
decay. Genius leaves the temple, to haunt the senate or the market. 
Literature becomes frivolous. Science is cold. The eye of youth is 
not lighted by the hope of other worlds, and age is without honor. 
Society lives to trifles, and when men die we do not mention 
them. 

And now, my brothers, you will ask, What in these desponding 



38 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

days can be done by us? The remedy is already declared in the 
ground of our complaint of the Church. We have contrasted the 
Church with the Soul. In the soul, then, let the redemption be 
sought. Wherever a man comes, there comes revolution. The old 
is for slaves. When a man comes, all books are legible, all things 
transparent, all religions are forms. He is religious. Man is the 
wonderworker. He is seen amid miracles. All men bless and curse. 
He saith yea and nay, only. The stationariness of religion; the 
assumption that the age of inspiration is past, that the Bible is 
closed; the fear of degrading the character of Jesus by representing 
him as a man, — indicate with sufiicient clearness the falsehood of 
our theology. It is the office of a true teacher to show us that God 
is, not was; that He speaketh, not spake. The true Christianity — ^a 
faith like Christ's in the infinitude of man — is lost. None believeth 
in the soul of man, but only in some man or person old and departed. 
Ah me! no man goeth alone. All men go in flocks to this saint or 
that poet, avoiding the God who seeth in secret. They cannot see 
in secret; they love to be blind in public. They think society wiser 
than their soul, and know not that one soul, and their soul, is wiser 
than the whole world. See how nations and races flit by on the 
sea of time, and leave no ripple to tell where they floated or sunk, 
and one good soul shall make the name of Moses, or of Zeno, or of 
Zoroaster reverend forever. None essayeth the stern ambition to be 
the Self of the nation and of Nature, but each would be an easy 
secondary to some Christian scheme, or sectarian connection, or 
some eminent man. Once leave your own knowledge of God, your 
own sentiment, and take secondary knowledge, as St. Paul's, or 
George Fox's, or Swedenborg's, and you get wide from God with 
every year this secondary form lasts, and if, as now, for centuries, — 
the chasm yawns to that breadth, that men can scarcely be convinced 
there is in them anything divine. 

Let me admonish you, first of all, to go alone; to refuse the good 
models, even those which are sacred in the imagination of men, 
and dare to love God without mediator or veil. Friends enough 
you shall find who will hold up to your emulation Wesleys and 
Oberlins, Saints and Prophets. Thank God for these good men, 
but say, "I also am a man." Imitation cannot go above its model. 



ADDRESS TO DIVINITY STUDENTS 39 

The imitator dooms himself to hopeless mediocrity. The inventor 
did it, because it was natural to him, and so in him it has a charm. 
In the imitator, something else is natural, and he bereaves himself 
of his own beauty, to come short of another man's. 

Yourself a new-born bard of the Holy Ghost, — cast behind you 
all conformity, and acquaint men at first hand with Deity. Look to 
it first and only, that fashion, custom, authority, pleasure, and money 
are nothing to you, — are not bandages over your eyes, that you 
cannot see, — but live with the privilege of the immeasurable mind. 
Not too anxious to visit periodically all families and each family in 
your parish connection, — when you meet one of these men or women, 
be to them a divine man; be to them thought or virtue; let their 
timid aspirations find in you a friend; let their trampled instincts 
be genially tempted out in your atmosphere; let their doubts know 
that you have doubted, and their wonder feel that you have won- 
dered. By trusting your own heart, you shall gain more confidence 
in other men. For all our penny-wisdom, for all our soul-destroying 
slavery to habit, it is not to be doubted that all men have sublime 
thoughts; that all men value the few real hours of life; they love 
to be heard; they love to be caught up into the vision of principles. 
We mark with light in the memory the few interviews we have 
had, in the dreary years of routine and of sin, with souls that made 
our souls wiser; that spoke what we thought; that told us what we 
knew; that gave us leave to be what we inly were. Discharge to 
men the priestly office, and, present or absent, you shall be followed 
with their love as by an angel. 

And to this end let us not aim at common degrees of merit. Can 
we not leave to such as love it the virtue that glitters for the com- 
mendation of society, and ourselves pierce the deep solitudes of 
absolute ability and worth? We easily come up to the standard of 
goodness in society. Society's praise can be cheaply secured, and 
almost all men are content with those easy merits; but the instant 
effect of conversing with God will be to put them away. There 
are persons who are not actors, not speakers, but influences; persons 
too great for fame, for display; who disdain eloquence; to whom 
all we call art and artist seems too nearly allied to show and by-ends, 
to the exaggeration of the finite and selfish, and loss of the universal. 



40 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

The orators, the poets, the commanders encroach on us only as fair 
women do, by our allowance and homage. Slight them by preoccu- 
pation of mind, slight them as you can well afford to do, by high 
and universal aims, and they instantly feel that you have right, and 
that it is in lower places that they must shine. They also feel your 
right; for they with you are open to the influx of the all-knowing 
Spirit, which annihilates before its broad noon the little shades and 
gradations of intelligence in the compositions we call wiser and 
wisest. 

In such high communion let us study the grand strokes of recti- 
tude: a bold benevolence, an independence of friends so that not the 
unjust wishes of those who love us will impair our freedom, but 
we shall resist for truth's sake the freest flow of kindness, and appeal 
to sympathies far in advance; and — what is the highest form in 
which we know this beautiful element — a certain solidity of merit, 
that has nothing to do with opinion, and which is so essentially and 
manifestly virtue, that it is taken for granted that the right, the 
brave, the generous step will be taken by it, and nobody thinks of 
commending it. You would compliment a coxcomb doing a good 
act, but you would not praise an angel. The silence that accepts 
merit as the most natural thing in the world is the highest applause. 
Such souls, when they appear, are the Imf)erial Guard of Virtue, the 
perpetual reserve, the dictators of fortune. One needs not praise 
their courage, — they are the heart and soul of nature. Oh my friends, 
there are resources in us on which we have not drawn. There are 
men who rise refreshed on hearing a threat; men to whom a crisis 
which intimidates and paralyzes the majority — demanding not the 
faculties of prudence and thrift, but comprehension, immovableness, 
the readiness of sacrifice — comes graceful and beloved as a bride. 
Napoleon said of Massena, that he was not himself until the battle 
began to go against him; then, when the dead began to fall in ranks 
around him, awoke his powers of combination, and he put on terror 
and victory as a robe. So it is in rugged crises, in unweariable 
endurance, and in aims which put sympathy out of question, and 
the angel is shown. But these are heights that we can scarce 
remember and look up to, without contrition and shame. Let us 
thank God that such things exist. 

And now let us do what we can to rekindle the smouldering, nigh 



ADDRESS TO DIVINITY STUDENTS 4 1 

quenched fire on the altar. The evils of the Church that now is 
are manifest. The question returns, what shall we do? I confess, 
all attempts to project and establish a Cultus with new rites and 
forms seem to me in vain. Faith makes us, and not we it, and faith 
makes its own forms. All attempts to contrive a system are as cold 
as the new worship introduced by the French to the goddess of 
Reason, — to-day, pasteboard and filigree, and ending to-morrow in 
madness, and murder. Rather let the breath of new life be breathed 
by you through the forms already existing. For, if once you are 
alive, you shall find they shall become plastic and new. The remedy 
to their deformity is, first. Soul, and second. Soul, and evermore. 
Soul. A whole popedom of forms one pulsation of virtue can uplift 
and vivify. 

Two inestimable advantages Christianity has given us: first, the 
Sabbath, the jubilee of the whole world; Whose light dawns welcome 
alike into the closet of the philosopher, into the garret of toil, and 
into prison cells, and everywhere suggests, even to the vile, the dig- 
nity of spiritual being. Let it stand forevermore a temple, which 
new love, new faith, new sight shall restore to more than its first 
splendor to mankind. And secondly, the institution of preaching, — 
the speech of man to men, — essentially the most flexible of all or- 
gans, of all forms. What hinders that now, everywhere, in pulpits, 
in lecture-rooms, in houses, in fields, wherever the invitation of men 
or your own occasions lead you, you spoke the very truth, as your 
life and conscience teach it, and cheer the waiting, fainting hearts 
of men with new hope and new revelation? 

I look for the hour when that supreme Beauty which ravished the 
souls of those Eastern men, and chiefly of those Hebrews, and 
through their lips spoke oracles to all time, shall speak in the West 
also. The Hebrew and Greek Scriptures contain immortal sentences 
that have been bread of life to millions. But they have no epical 
integrity; are fragmentary; are not shown in their order to the 
intellect. I look for the new Teacher, that shall follow so far those 
shining laws, that he shall see them come full circle; shall see their 
rounding complete grace; shall see the world to be the mirror of 
the soul; shall see the identity of the law of gravitation with purity 
of heart; and shall show that the Ought, that Duty, is one thing 
with Science, with Beauty, and with Joy. 



MAN THE REFORMER 

A Lecture Read Before the Mechanics Apprentices' Library 
Association, Boston, January 25, 1841 

MR. PRESIDENT AND GENTLEMEN: I wish to offer 
to your consideration some thoughts on the particular and 
general relations of man as a reformer. 1 shall assume that 
the aim of each young man in this association is the very highest 
that belongs to a rational mind. Let it be granted, that our life, as 
we lead it, is common and mean; that some of those offices and 
functions for which we were mainly created are grown so rare in 
society, that the memory of them is only kept aUve in old books 
and in dim traditions; that prophets and poets, that beautiful and 
perfect men, we are not now, no, nor have ever seen such; that 
some sources of human instruction are almost unnamed and un- 
known among us; that the community in which we live will hardly 
bear to be told that every man should be open to ecstasy or a divine 
illumination, and his daily walk elevated by intercourse with the 
spiritual world. Grant all this, as we must, yet I suppxDse none of 
my auditors will deny that we ought to seek to establish ourselves 
in such disciplines and courses as will deserve that guidance and 
clearer communication with the spiritual nature. And, further, I 
will not dissemble my hope that each person whom I address has 
felt his own call to cast aside all evil customs, timidities, and limita- 
tions, and to be in his place a free and helpful man, a reformer, a 
benefactor, not content to slip along through the world like a foot- 
man or a spy, escaping by his nimbleness and apologies as many 
knocks as he can, but a brave and upright man, who must find or 
cut a straight road to everything excellent in the earth, and not only 
go honorably himself, but make it easier for all who follow him to 
go in honor and with benefit. 

In the history of the world the doctrine of reform had never such 
scope as at the present hour. Lutherans, Hernhutters, Jesuits, Monks, 

43 



44 RALPH WAUJO EMERSON 

Quakers, Knox, Wesley, Swedenborg, Bentham, in their accusations 
of society, all respected something, — Church or State, literature or 
history, domestic usages, the market town, the dinner table, coined 
money. But now all these and all things else hear the trumpet, and 
must rush to judgment, — Christianity, the laws, commerce, schools, 
the farm, the laboratory; and not a kingdom, town, statute, rite, 
calling, man, or woman, but is threatened by the new spirit. 

What if some of the objections whereby our institutions are 
assailed are extreme and speculative, and the reformers tend to 
idealism: that only shows the extravagance of the abuses which have 
driven the mind into the opposite extreme. It is when your facts 
and persons grow unreal and fantastic by too much falsehood, that 
the scholar flies for refuge to the world of ideas, and aims to recruit 
and replenish Nature from that source. Let ideas establish their 
legitimate sway again in society, let life be fair and poetic, and the 
scholars will gladly be lovers, citizens and philanthropists. 

It will afford no security from the new ideas that the old nations, 
the laws of centuries, the property and institutions of a hundred 
cities, are built on other foundations. The demon of reform has a 
secret door into the heart of every lawmaker, of every inhabitant 
of every city. The fact that a new thought and hope have dawned 
in your breast, should apprise you that in the same hour a new light 
broke in upon a thousand private hearts. That secret which you 
would fain keep, — as soon as you go abroad, lo! there is one stand- 
ing on the door-step to tell you the same. There is not the most 
bronzed and sharpened money-catcher who does not, to your con- 
sternation, almost quail and shake the moment he hears a question 
prompted by the new ideas. We thought he had some semblance 
of ground to stand upon, that such as he at least would die hard; 
but he trembles and flees. Then the scholar says: — "Cities and 
coaches shall never impose on me again; for, behold, every solitary 
dream of mine is rushing to fulfilment. That fancy I had, and 
hesitated to utter because you would laugh, — the broker, the at- 
torney, the market-man, are saying the same thing. Had I waited 
a day longer to speak, I had been too late. Behold, State Street 
thinks, and Wall Street doubts, and begins to prophesy!" 

It cannot be wondered at that this general inquest into abuses 



MAN THE REFORMER 45 

should arise in the bosom of society, when one considers the practical 
impediments that stand in the way of virtuous young men. The 
young man, on entering life, finds the way to lucrative employments 
blocked with abuses. The ways of trade are grown selfish to the 
borders of theft, and supple to the borders (if not beyond the bor- 
ders) of fraud. The employments of commerce are not intrinsically 
unfit for a man, or less genial to his faculties, but these are now in 
their general course so vitiated by derelictions and abuses at which 
all connive, that it requires more vigor and resources than can be 
expected of every young man to right himself in them; he is lost 
in them; he cannot move hand or foot in them. Has he genius and 
virtue? the less does he find them fit for him to grow in; and if he 
would thrive in them, he must sacrifice all the brilliant dreams of 
boyhood and youth as dreams, he must forget the prayers of his 
childhood, and must take on him the harness of routine and ob- 
sequiousness. If not so minded, nothing is left him but to begin the 
world anew, as he does who puts the spade into the ground for 
food. We are all implicated, of course, in this charge; it is only 
necessary to ask a few questions as to the progress of the articles 
of commerce from the fields where they grew, to our houses, to 
become aware that we eat and drink and wear perjury and fraud 
in a hundred commodities. How many articles of daily consump- 
tion are furnished us from the West Indies; yet it is said that in the 
Spanish islands the venality of the officers of the government has 
passed into usage, and that no article passes into our ships which 
has not been fraudulently cheapened. In the Spanish islands, every 
agent or factor of the Americans, unless he be a consul, has taken 
oath that he is a Catholic, or has caused a priest to make that 
declaration for him. The abolitionist has shown us our dreadful 
debt to the Southern negro. In the island of Cuba, in addition to 
the ordinary abominations of slavery, it appears only men are 
bought for the plantations, and one dies in ten every year, of these 
miserable bachelors, to yield us sugar. I leave for those who have 
the knowledge the part of sifting the oaths of our custom-houses; 
I will not inquire into the oppression of the sailors; I will not pry 
into the usages of our retail trade. I content myself with the fact 
that the general system of our trade (apart from the blacker uaits, 



46 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

which, I hope, are exceptions denounced and unshared by all repu- 
table men) is a system of selfishness, is not dictated by the high 
sentiments of human nature, is not measured by the exact law 
of reciprocity, much less by the sentiments of love and heroism; 
but is a system of distrust, of concealment, of superior keenness, 
not of giving but of taking advantage. It is not that which a man 
delights to unlock to a noble friend, which he meditates on with joy 
and self -approval in his hour of love and aspiration; but rather 
what he then puts out of sight, only showing the brilUant result, 
and atoning for the manner of acquiring by the manner of expand- 
ing it. I do not charge the merchant or the manufacturer. The 
sins of our trade belong to no class, to no individual. One plucks, 
one distributes, one eats. Everybody partakes, everybody confesses, 
with cap and knee volunteers his confession, yet none feels himself 
accountable. He did not create the abuse; he cannot alter it. What 
is he."* an obscure private person who must get his bread. That is 
the vice, — that no one feels himself called to act for man, but only 
as a fraction of man. It happens, therefore, that all such ingenuous 
souls as feel within themselves the irrepressible strivings of a noble 
aim, who by the law of their nature must act simply, find these 
ways of trade unfit for them, and they come forth from it. Such 
cases are becoming more nimierous every year. 

But by coming out of trade you have not cleared yourself. The 
trail of the serpent reaches into all the lucrative professions and 
practices of man. E^ch has its own wrongs. Each finds a tender 
and very intelligent conscience a disqualification for success. Each 
requires of the practitioner a certain shutting of the eyes, a certain 
dapperness and compliance, an acceptance of customs, a sequestra- 
tion from the sentiments of generosity and love, a compromise of 
private opinion and lofty integrity. Nay, the evil custom reaches 
into the whole institution of property, until our laws which establish 
and protect it seem not to be the issue of love and reason, but 
of selfishness. Suppose a man is so unhappy as to be born a saint, 
with keen p)erceptions, but with the conscience and love of an angel, 
and he is to get his living in the world; he finds himself excluded 
from all lucrative works; he has no farm, and he cannot get one; 
for to earn money enough to buy one requires a sort of concentra- 



MAN THE REFORMER 47 

tion toward money, which is the selling himself for a number of 
years, and to him the present hour is as sacred and inviolable as 
any future hour. Of course, whilst another man has no land, my 
title to mine, your title to yours, is at once vitiated. Inextricable 
seem to be the twinings and tendrils of this evil, and we all involve 
ourselves in it the deeper by forming connections, by wives and 
children, by benefits and debts. 

Considerations of this kind have turned the attention of many 
philanthropic and intelligent persons to the claims of manual labor 
as a part of the education of every young man. If the accumulated 
wealth of the past generations is thus tainted, — no matter how much 
of it is offered to us, — we must begin to consider if it were not the 
nobler part to renounce it, and to put ourselves into primary relations 
with the soil and Nature, and abstaining from whatever is dishonest 
and unclean, to take each of us bravely his part, with his own 
hands, in the manual labor of the world. 

But it is said: — "What! will you give up the immense advantages 
reaped from the division of labor, and set every man to make his 
own shoes, bureau, knife, wagon, sails, and needle? This would 
be to put men back into barbarism by their own act." I see no 
instant prospect of a virtuous revolution; yet I confess I should 
not be pained at a change which threatened a loss of some of the 
luxuries or conveniences of society, if it proceeded from a preference 
of the agricultural life out of the belief that our primary duties 
as men could be better discharged in that calling. Who could 
regret to see a high conscience and a purer taste exercising a sensible 
effect on young men in their choice of occupation, and thinning 
the ranks of competition in the labors of commerce, of law and of 
state? It is easy to see that the inconvenience would last but a short 
time. This would be great action, which always op)ens the eyes of 
men. When many persons shall have done this, when the majority 
shall admit the necessity of reform in all these institutions, their 
abuses will be redressed, and the way will be open again to the 
advantages which arise from the division of labor, and a man may 
select the fittest employment for his peculiar talent again, without 
compromise. 

But quite apart from the emphasis which the times give to the 



48 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

doctrine that the manual labor of society ought to be shared among 
all the members, there are reasons proper to every individual why 
he should not be deprived of it. The use of manual labor is one 
which never grows obsolete, and which is inapplicable to no person. 
A man should have a farm or a mechanical craft for his culture. 
We must have a basis for our higher accomplishments, our delicate 
entertainments of poetry and philosophy, in the work of our hands. 
We must have an antagonism in the tough world for all the variety 
of our spiritual faculties or they will not be born. Manual labor 
is the study of the external world. The advantage of riches remains 
with him who procured them, not with the heir. When I go into 
my garden with a spade, and dig a bed, I feel such an exhilaration 
and health, that I discover that I have been defrauding myself all 
this time in letting others do for me what I should have done with 
my own hands. But not only health, but education, is in the work. 
Is it possible that I who get indefinite quantities of sugar, hominy, 
cotton, buckets, crockery ware, and letter paper, by simply signing 
my name once in three months to a check in favor of John Smith 
and Co., traders, get the fair share of exercise to my faculties by 
that act, which Nature intended for me in making all these far- 
fetched matters important to my comfort? It is Smith himself, and 
his carriers, and dealers, and manufacturers, it is the sailor, the 
hidedrogher, the butcher, the negro, the hunter, and the planter 
who have intercepted the sugar of the sugar, and the cotton of the 
cotton. They have got the education, I only the commodity. This 
were all very well if I were necessarily absent, being detained by 
work of my own, like theirs, work of the same faculties; then 
should I be sure of my hands and feet, but now I feel some shame 
before my wood-chopper, my ploughman, and my cook, for they 
have some sort of self-sufficiency, they can contrive without my aid 
to bring the day and year round, but I depend on them, and have 
not earned by use a right to my arms and feet. 

Consider further the difference between the first and second owner 
of property. Every species of property is preyed on by its own 
enemies, as iron by rust; timber by rot; cloth by moths; provisions 
by mould, putridity, or vermin; money by thieves; an orchard by 
insects; a planted field by weeds and the inroad of catde; a stock o£ 



MAN THE REFORMER 49 

cattle by hunger; a road by rain and frost; a bridge by freshets. 
And whoever takes any of these things into his possession, takes 
the charge of defending them from this troop of enemies, or of 
keeping them in repair. A man who suppHes his own want, who 
builds a raft or a boat to go a-fishing, finds it easy to calk it, or 
put in a thole-pin, or mend the rudder. What he gets only as fast 
as he wants for his own ends, does not embarrass him, or take 
away his sleep with looking after. But when he comes to give all 
the goods he has year after year collected, in one estate to his son, — 
house, orchard, ploughed land, cattle, bridges, hardware, wooden- 
ware, carpets, cloths, provisions, books, money, — and cannot give 
him the skill and experience which made or collected these, and the 
method and place they have in his own life, the son finds his hands 
full, — not to use these things, but to look after them and defend 
them from their natural enemies. To him they are not means, but 
masters. Their enemies will not remit; rust, mould, vermin, rain, 
sun, freshet, fire, all seize their own, fill him with vexation, and he 
is converted from the owner into a watchman or a watch-dog to 
this magazine of old and new chattels. What a change! Instead of 
the masterly good humor, and sense of power, and fertility of re- 
source in himself; instead of those strong and learned hands, those 
piercing and learned eyes, that supple body, and that mighty and 
prevailing heart, which the father had, whom nature loved and 
feared, whom snow and rain, water and land, beast and fish seemed 
all to know and to serve, we have now a puny, protected person, 
guarded by walls and curtains, stoves and down beds, coaches, and 
men-servants and women-servants from the earth and the sky, and 
who, bred to depend on all these, is made anxious by all that en- 
dangers those possessions, and is forced to spend so much time in 
guarding them, that he has quite lost sight of their original use, 
namely, to help him to his ends, — to the prosecution of his love, 
to the helping of his friend, to the worship of his God, to the enlarge- 
ment of his knowledge, to the serving of his country, to the indul- 
gence of his sentiment, and he is now what is called a rich man, — 
the menial and runner of his riches. 

Hence it happens that the whole interest of history lies in the 
fortunes of the poor. Knowledge, virtue, power, are the victories 



50 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

of man over his necessities, his march to the dominion of the world. 
Every man ought to have this oppwrtunity to conquer the world 
for himself. Only such f)ersons interest us — Spartans, Romans, 
Saracens, English, Americans — who have stood in the jaws of need, 
and have by their own wit and might extricated themselves and 
made man victorious. 

I do not wish to overstate this doctrine of labor, or insist that 
every man should be a farmer, any more than that every man should 
be a lexicographer. In general, one may say that the husbandman's 
is the oldest and most universal profession, and that where a man 
does not yet discover in himself any fitness for one work more than 
another, this may be preferred. But the doctrine of the farm is 
merely this, that every man ought to stand in primary relations 
with the work of the world, ought to do it himself, and not to 
suffer the accident of his having a purse in his pocket, or his having 
been bred to some dishonorable and injurious craft, to sever him 
from those duties; and for this reason, that labor is God's education; 
that he only is a sincere learner, he only can become a master, who 
learns the secrets of labor, and who by real cunning extorts from 
Nature its sceptre. 

Neither would I shut my ears to the plea of the learned pro- 
fessions, of the poet, the priest, the law-giver, and men of study 
generally; namely, that in the experience of all men of that class, 
the amount of manual labor which is necessary to the maintenance 
of a family, indisposes and disqualifies for intellectual exertion. I 
know it often, perhaps usually, happens, that where there is a fine 
organization apt for poetry and philosophy, that individual finds 
himself compelled to wait on his thoughts, to waste several days 
that he may enhance and glorify one; and is better taught by a 
moderate and dainty exercise, such as rambling in the fields, rowing, 
skating, hunting, than by the downright drudgery of the farmer 
and the smith. I would not quite forget the venerable counsel of 
the Egyptian mysteries, which declared that "there were two pair 
of eyes in man, and it is requisite that the pair which are beneath 
should be closed when the pair that are above them perceive, and 
that when the pair above are closed, those which are beneath should 
be opened." Yet I will suggest that no separation from labor can 



MAN THE REFORMER 5 1 

be without some loss of power and of truth to the seer himself; that, 
I doubt not, the faults and vices of our literature and philosophy, 
their too great fineness, effeminacy, and melancholy, are attributable 
to the enervated and sickly habits of the literary class. Better that 
the book should not be quite so good, and the bookmaker abler and 
better, and not himself often a ludicrous contrast to all that he has 
written. 

But granting that for ends so sacred and dear, some relaxation 
must be had, I think, that if a man find in himself any strong bias 
to poetry, to art, to the contemplative life, drawing him to these 
things with a devotion incompatible with good husbandry, that man 
ought to reckon early with himself, and, respecting the compensa- 
tions of the Universe, ought to ransom himself from the duties of 
economy by a certain rigor and privation in his habits. For privileges 
so rare and grand, let him not stint to pay a great tax. Let him be a 
cxnobite, a pauper, and, if need be, celibate also. Let him learn to eat 
his meals standing, and to relish the taste of fair water and black 
bread. He may leave to others the costly conveniences of housekeep)- 
ing, and large hospitality, and the possession of works of art. Let him 
feel that genius is a hospitality, and that he who can create works 
of art needs not collect them. He must live in a chamber, and post- 
pone his self-indulgence, forewarned and forearmed against that 
frequent misfortune of men of genius, — the taste for luxury. This 
is the tragedy of genius, — attempting to drive along the ecliptic with 
one horse of the heavens and one horse of the earth, there is only 
discord and ruin and downfall to chariot and charioteer. 

The duty that every man should assume his own vows, should 
call the institutions of society to account, and examine their fitness 
to him, gains in emphasis, if we look at our modes of living. Is 
our housekeeping sacred and honorable? Does it raise and inspire 
us, or does it cripple us instead ? I ought to be armed by every part 
and function of my household, by all my social function, by my 
economy, by my feasting, by my voting, by my traffic. Yet I am 
almost no party to any of these things. Custom does it for me, 
gives me no power therefrom, and runs me in debt to boot. We 
spend our incomes for paint and paper, for a hundred trifles, I know 
not what, and not for the things of a man. Our expense is almost 



52 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

all for conformity. It is for cake that we run in debt; 'tis not the 
intellect, not the heart, not beauty, not worship, that costs so much. 
Why needs any man be rich.^ Why must he have horses, fine 
garments, handsome apartments, access to public houses and places 
of amusement? Only for want of thought. Give his mind a new 
image, and he flees into a solitary garden or garret to enjoy it, and 
is richer with that dream than the fee of a county could make him. 
But we are first thoughtless, and then find that we are moneyless. 
We are first sensual, and then must be rich. We dare not trust our 
wit for making our house pleasant to our friend, and so we buy 
ice-creams. He is accustomed to carp)ets, and we have not sufficient 
character to put floor<loths out of his mind whilst he stays in the 
house, and so we pile the floor with carpets. Let the house rather 
be a temple of the Furies of Lacedarmon, formidable and holy to 
all, which none but a Spartan may enter or so much as behold. As 
soon as there is faith, as soon as there is society, comfits and cushions 
will be left to slaves. Expense will be inventive and heroic. We shall 
eat hard and lie hard; we shall dwell like the ancient Romans in 
narrow tenements, whilst our public edifices, like theirs, will be 
worthy for their proportion of the landscape in which we set them, 
for conversation, for art, for music, for worship. We shall be rich 
to great purposes; poor only for selfish ones. 

Now what help for these evils? How can the man who has 
learned but one art procure all the conveniences of life honestly? 
Shall we say all we think? — perhaps with his own hands. Suppose 
he collects or makes them ill; yet he has learned their lesson. If he 
cannot do that, then perhaps he can go without. Immense wisdom 
and riches are in that. It is better to go without, than to have them 
at too great a cost. Let us learn the meaning of economy. Economy 
is a high, humane office, a sacrament, when its aim is grand, when 
it is the prudence of simple tastes, when it is practised for freedom, 
or love, or devotion. Much of the economy which we see in 
houses is of a base origin, and is best kept out of sight. Parched 
corn eaten to-day that I may have roast fowl to my dinner on Sunday 
is a baseness; but parched corn and a house with one apartment, 
that I may be free of all perturbations, that I may be serene and 
docile to what the mind shall speak, and girt and road-ready for 



MAN THE REFORMER 53 

the lowest mission of knowledge or goodwill, is frugality for gods 
and heroes. 

Can we not learn the lesson of self-help? Society is full of infirm 
people, who incessantly summon others to serve them. They con- 
trive everywhere to exhaust for their single comfort the entire means 
and appliances of that luxury to which our invention has yet at- 
tained. Sofas, ottomans, stoves, wine, game-fowl, spices, perfumes, 
rides, the theatre, entertainments, — all these they want, they need, 
and whatever can be suggested more than these, they crave also, as 
if it was the bread which should keep them from starving; and if 
they miss any one, they represent themselves as the most wronged 
and most wretched persons on earth. One must have been born and 
bred with them to know how to prepare a meal for their learned 
stomach. Meantime, they never bestir themselves to serve another 
person; not they! they have a great deal more to do for themselves 
than they can possibly perform, nor do they once perceive the cruel 
joke of their lives; but the more odious they grow, the sharp)er is 
the tone of their complaining and craving. Can anything be so 
elegant as to have few wants and to serve them one's self, so as 
to have somewhat left to give, instead of being always prompt to 
grab? It is more elegant to answer one's own needs than to be 
richly served; inelegant perhaps it may look to-day, and to a few, 
but it is an elegance forever and to all. 

I do not wish to be absurd and pedantic in reform. I do not wish 
to push my criticism on the state of things around me to that 
extravagant mark that shall comf>el me to suicide, or to an absolute 
isolation from the advantages of civil society. If we suddenly plant 
our foot, and say, I will neither eat nor drink nor wear nor touch 
any food or fabric which I do not know to be innocent, or deal 
with any person whose whole manner of life is not clear and rational, 
we shall stand still. Whose is so? Not mine; not thine; not his. But 
I think we must clear ourselves each one by the interrogation, 
whether we have earned our bread to-day by the hearty contribution 
of our energies to the common benefit; and we must not cease to 
tend to the correction of these flagrant wrongs, by laying one stone 
aright every day. 

But the idea which now begins to agitate society has a wider scope 



54 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

than our daily employments, our households, and the institutions 
of property. We are to revise the whole of our social structure, the 
state, the school, religion, marriage, trade, science, and explore their 
foundations in our own nature; we are to see that the world not 
only fitted the former men, but fits us, and to clear ourselves of every 
usage which has not its roots in our own mind. What is a man 
born for but to be a reformer, a remaker of what man has made; 
a renouncer of lies; a restorer of truth and good, imitating that 
great Nature which embosoms us all, and which sleeps no moment 
on an old past, but every hour repairs herself, yielding us every 
morning a new day, and with every pulsation a new life? Let him 
renounce everything which is not true to him, and put all his prac- 
tices back on their first thoughts, and do nothing for which he has 
not the whole world for his reason. If there are inconveniences, and 
what is called ruin in the way, because we have so enervated and 
maimed ourselves, yet it would be like dying of perfumes to sink 
in the effort to reattach the deeds of every day to the holy and 
mysterious recesses of life. 

The power, which is at once spring and regulator in all efforts of 
reform, is the conviction that there is an infinite worthiness in man 
which will appear at the call of worth, and that all particular reforms 
are the removing of some imjjediment. Is it not the highest duty 
that man should be honored in us? I ought not to allow any man, 
because he has broad lands, to feel that he is rich in my presence. 
I ought to make him feel that I can do without his riches, that I 
cannot be bought, — neither by comfort, neither by pride, — ^and 
though I be utterly fjenniless, and receiving bread from him, that 
he is the poor man beside me. And if, at the same time, a woman 
or a child discovers a sentiment of piety, or a juster way of thinking 
than mine, I ought to confess it by my respect and obedience, though 
it go to alter my whole way of life. 

The Americans have many virtues, but they have not Faith and 
Hope. I know no two words whose meaning is more lost sight of. 
We use these words as if they were as obsolete as Selah and Amen. 
And \et t\\ev \\ave tVve broadest meanin?;^ and the n\ost co^tvt aqqlli- 

cation to Boston in 1841. The Americans have no faith. They rely 



MAN THE REFORMER 55 

on the power of a dollar; they are deaf to a sentiment. They think 
you may talk the north wind down as easily as raise society; and 
no class more faithless than the scholars or intellectual men. Now if 
I talk with a sincere wise man, and my friend, with a poet, with a 
conscientious youth who is still under the dominion of his own 
wild thoughts, and not yet harnessed in the team of society to drag 
with us all in the ruts of custom, I see at once how paltry is all this 
generation of unbelievers, and what a house of cards their institu- 
tions are, and I see what one brave man, what one great thought 
executed might effect. I see that the reason of the distrust of the 
practical man in all theory is his inability to perceive the means 
whereby we work. Look, he says, at the tools with which this world 
of yours is to be built. As we cannot make a planet, with atmos- 
phere, rivers, and forests, by means of the best carpenters' or en- 
gineers' tools, with chemist's laboratory and smith's forge to boot, 
— so neither can we ever construct that heavenly society you prate 
of, out of foolish, sick, selfish men and women, such as we know 
them to be. But the believer not only beholds his heaven to be 
possible, but already to begin to exist, — not by the men or materials 
the statesman uses, but by men transfigured and raised above them- 
selves by the power of principles. To principles something else is 
possible that transcends all the power of expedients. 

Every great and commanding moment in the annals of the world 
is the triumph of some enthusiasm. The victories of the Arabs after 
Mahomet, who, in a few years, from a small and mean beginning, 
established a larger empire than that of Rome, is an example. They 
did they knew not what. The naked Derar horsed on an idea, was 
found an overmatch for a troop of Roman cavalry. The women 
fought like men, and conquered the Roman men. They were miser- 
ably equipped, miserably fed. They were temperance troops. There 
was neither brandy nor flesh needed to feed them. They conquered 
Asia, and Africa, and Spain, on barley. The Caliph Omar's walking- 
stick struck more terror into those who saw it than another man's 
sword. His diet was barley bread; his sauce was salt; and often- 
times by way of abstinence he ate his bread without salt. His drink 
was water. His palace was built of mud; and when he left Medina 



56 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

to go to the conquest of Jerusalem, he rode on a red camel, with a 
wooden platter hanging at his saddle, with a botde of water and 
two sacks, one holding barley, and the other dried fruits. 

But there will dawn ere long on our politics, on our modes of 
living, a nobler morning than that Arabian faith, in the sentiment 
of love. This is the one remedy for all ills, the panacea of Nature. 
We must be lovers, and at once the impossible becomes possible. 
Our age and history, for these thousand years, has not been the 
history of kindness, but of selfishness. Our distrust is very expensive. 
The money we spend for courts and prisons is very ill laid out. We 
make, by distrust, the thief, and burglar, and incendiary, and by 
our court and jail we keep him so. An acceptance of the sentiment 
of love throughout Christendom for a season would bring the felon 
and the outcast to our side in tears, with the devotion of his facul- 
ties to our service. See this wide society of laboring men and 
women. We allow ourselves to be served by them, we live apart 
from them, and meet them without a salute in the streets. We do 
not greet their talents, nor rejoice in their good fortune, nor foster 
their hopes, nor in the assembly of the people vote for what is dear 
to them. Thus we enact the part of the selfish noble and king from 
the foundation of the world. See, this tree always bears one fruit. 
In every household the peace of a pair is poisoned by the malice, 
slyness, indolence, and alienation of domestics. Let any two matrons 
meet, and observe how soon their conversation turns on the troubles 
from their "help," as our phrase is. In every knot of laborers, the 
rich man does not feel himself among his friends, — and at the polls 
he finds them arrayed in a mass in distinct opposition to him. We 
complain that the politics of masses of the people are controlled by 
designing men, and led in opposition to manifest justice and the 
common weal, and to their own interest. But the people do not 
wish to be represented or ruled by the ignorant and base. They only 
vote for these, because they were asked with the voice and semblance 
of kindness. They will not vote for them long. They inevitably 
prefer wit and probity. To use an Egyptian metaphor, it is not their 
will for any long time "to raise the nails of wild beasts, and to de- 
press the heads of the sacred birds." Let our affection flow out to 
our fellows; it would operate in a day the greatest of all revolutions. 



MAN THE REFORMER 57 

It is better to work on institutions by the sun than by the wind. The 
state must consider the poor man, and all voices must speak for him. 
Every child that is born must have a just chance for his bread. 
Let the amelioration in our laws of prof)erty proceed from the con- 
cession of the rich, not from the grasping of the poor. Let us begin 
by habitual imparting. Let us understand that the equitable rule is, 
that no one should take more than his share, let him be ever so 
rich. Let me feel that I am to be a lover. 1 am to see to it that the 
world is the better for me, and to find my reward in the act. Love 
would put a new face on this weary old world in which we dwell 
as pagans and enemies too long, and it would warm the heart to 
see how fast the vain diplomacy of statesmen, the impotence of 
armies, and navies, and lines of defence, would be superseded by 
this unarmed child. Love will creep where it cannot go, will ac- 
compHsh that by imperceptible methods — being its own lever, ful- 
crum, and power — which force could never achieve. Have you not 
seen in the woods, in a late autumn morning, a poor fungus or 
mushroom, — a plant without any solidity, nay, that seemed nothing 
but a soft mush or jelly, — by its constant, total, and inconceivably 
gentle pushing, manage to break its way up through the frosty 
ground, and actually to lift a hard crust on its head ? It is the symbol 
of the power of kindness. The virtue of this principle in human 
society in application to great interests is obsolete and forgotten. 
Once or twice in history it has been tried in illustrious instances, 
with signal success. This great, overgrown, dead Christendom of 
ours still keeps alive at least the name of a lover of mankind. But 
one day all men will be lovers; and every calamity will be dissolved 
in the universal sunshine. 

Will you suffer me to add one trait more to this portrait of man 
the reformer? The meditator between the spiritual and the actual 
world should have a great prospective prudence. An Arabian poet 
describes his hero by saying, 

"Sunshine was he 
In the winter day; 
And in the midsummer 
Coolness and shade." 

He who would help himself and others should not be a subject of 



58 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

irregular and interrupted impulses of virtue, but a continent, persist- 
ing, immovable person, such as we have seen a few scattered up and 
down in time for the blessing of the world; men who have in the 
gravity of their nature a quality which answers to the fly-wheel in a 
mill, which distributes the motion equably over all the wheels, and 
hinders it from falling unequally and suddenly in destructive shocks. 
It is better that joy should be spread over all the day in the form of 
strength, than that it should be concentrated into ecstasies, full of 
danger and followed by reactions. There is a sublime prudence 
which is the very highest that we know of man, which, believing in 
a vast future, sure of more to come than is yet seen, postpones al- 
ways the present hour to the whole life; postpones talent to genius, 
and special results to character. As the merchant gladly takes money 
from his income to add to his capital, so is the great man very willing 
to lose particular powers and talents so that he gain in the elevation 
of his Ufe. The opening of the spiritual senses disposes men ever to 
greater sacrifices, to leave their signal talents, their best means and 
skill of procuring a present success, their power and their fame, to 
cast all things behind, in the insatiable thirst for divine communica- 
tions. A purer fame, a greater power, rewards the sacrifice. It is 
the conversion of our harvest into seed. As the farmer casts into the 
ground the finest ears of his grain, the time will come when we too 
shall hold nothing back, but shall eagerly convert more than we now 
possess into means and powers, when we shall be willing to sow the 
sun and the moon for seeds. 



SELF-RELIANCE 

(1841) 

Ne te quxsiveris extra. 

Man is his own star; and the soul that can 
Render an honest and a perfect man, 
Commands all light, all influence, all fate; 
Nothing to him falls early or too late. 
Our acts our angels are, or good or ill. 
Our fatal shadows that walk by us still. 

— Epilogue to Beaumont and tietcher's Honest Man't Fortune. 



Cast the banding on the rocks. 
Suckle him with the she-wolf's teat. 
Wintered with the hawk and fox. 
Power and speed be hands and feet. 

I READ the other day some verses written by an eminent painter 
which were original and not conventional. Always the soul 
hears an admonition in such lines, let the subject be what it may. 
The sentiment they instil is o£ more value than any thought they 
may contain. To believe your own thought, to believe that what is 
true for you in your private heart is true for all men, — that is genius. 
Speak your latent conviction, and it shall be the universal sense; 
for always the inmost becomes the outmost — and our first thought is 
rendered back to us by the trumpets of the Last Judgment. Familiar 
as the voice of the mind is to each, the highest merit we ascribe to 
Moses, Plato and Milton is that they set at naught books and tradi- 
tions, and spoke not what men, but what they thought. A man 
should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes 
across his mind from within, more than the lustre of the firmament 
of bards and sages. Yet he dismisses without notice his thought, 
because it is his. In every work of genius we recognize our own 
rejected thoughts; they come back to us with a certain alienated 
majesty. Great works of art have no more affecting lesson for us 

59 



6o RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

than this. They teach us to abide by our spontaneous impression 
with good-humored inflexibility then most when the whole cry 
of voices is on the other side. Else to-morrow a stranger will say 
with masterly good sense precisely what we have thought and felt 
all the time, and we shall be forced to take with shame our own 
opinion from another. 

There is a time in every man's education when he arrives at the 
conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he 
must take himself for better for worse as his portion; that though 
the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can 
come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground 
which is given to him to till. The power which resides in him is 
new in nature, and none but he knows what that is which he can do, 
nor does he know until he has tried. Not for nothing one face, one 
character, one fact, makes much impression on him, and another 
none. It is not without preestablished harmony, this sculpture in the 
memory. The eye was placed where one ray should fall, that it might 
testify of that particular ray. Bravely let him speak the utmost syl- 
lable of his confession. We but half express ourselves, and are 
ashamed of that divine idea which each of us represents. It may be 
safely trusted as proportionate and of good issues, so it be faith- 
fully imparted, but God will not have his work made manifest by 
cowards. It needs a divine man to exhibit anything divine. A man is 
relieved and gay when he has put his heart into his work and 
done his best; but what he has said or done otherwise shall give 
him no peace. It is a deliverance which does not deliver. In the 
attempt his genius deserts him; no muse befriends; no invention, 
no hope. 

Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string. Accept the 
place the divine providence has found for you, the society of your 
contemporaries, the connexion of events. Great men have always 
done so, and confided themselves childlike to the genius of their age, 
betraying their perception that the Eternal was stirring at their 
heart, working through their hands, predominating in all their 
being. And we are now men, and must accept in the highest mind 
the same transcendent destiny; and not pinched in a corner, not 
cowards fleeing before a revolution, but redeemers and benefactors, 



SELF-RELIANCE 6 1 

pious aspirants to be noble clay under the Almighty effort let us 
advance on Chaos and the Dark. 

What pretty oracles nature yields us on this text in the face and 
behavior of children, babes, and even brutes. That divided and rebel 
mind, that distrust of a sentiment because our arithmetic has com- 
puted the strength and means opposed to our purpose, these have 
not. Their mind being whole, their eye is as yet unconquered, and 
when we look in their faces, we are disconcerted. Infancy conforms 
to nobody; all conform to it; so that one babe commonly makes four 
or five out of the adults who prattle and play to it. So God has armed 
youth and puberty and manhood no less with its own piquancy and 
charm, and made it enviable and gracious and its claims not to be 
put by, if it will stand by itself. Do not think the youth has no force, 
because he cannot speak to you and me. Hark! in the next room 
who spoke so clear and emphatic? It seems he knows how to speak 
to his contemporaries. Good Heaven! it is he! it is that very liunp 
of bashfulness and phlegm which for weeks has done nothing but 
eat when you were by, and now rolls out these words like bell- 
strokes. It seems he knows how to speak to his contemporaries. 
Bashful or bold then, he will know how to make us seniors very 
unnecessary. 

The nonchalance of boys who are sure of a dinner, and would 
disdain as much as a lord to do or say aught to conciliate one, is the 
healthy attitude of human nature. How is a boy the master of 
society; independent, irresponsible, looking out from his corner on 
such people and facts as pass by, he tries and sentences them on their 
merits, in the swift, summary way of boys, as good, bad, interesting, 
silly, eloquent, troublesome. He cumbers himself never about con- 
sequences, about interests; he gives an independent, genuine verdict. 
You must court him; he does not court you. But the man is as it 
were clapped into jail by his consciousness. As soon as he has once 
acted or spoken with eclat he is a committed person, watched by the 
sympathy or the hatred of hundreds, whose affections must now 
enter into his account. There is no Lethe for this. Ah, that he could 
pass again into his neutral, godlike independence! Who can thus lose 
all pledge and, having observed, observe again from the same un- 
affected, unbiased, unbribable, unaffrighted innocence, must always 



62 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

be formidable, must always engage the poet's and the man's regards. 
Of such an immortal youth the force would be felt. He would utter 
opinions on all passing affairs, which being seen to be not private but 
necessary, would sink Uke darts into the ear of men and put them 
in fear. 

These are the voices which we hear in solitude, but they grow faint 
and inaudible as we enter into the world. Society everywhere is in 
conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members. Society 
is a joint-stock company, in which the members agree, for the 
better securing of his bread to each shareholder, to surrender the 
liberty and culture of the eater. The virtue in most request is con- 
formity. Self-reliance is its aversion. It loves not realities and 
creators, but names and customs. 

Whoso would be a man, must be a nonconformist. He who would 
gather immortal palms must not be hindered by the name of good- 
ness, but must explore if it be goodness. Nothing is at last sacred 
but the integrity of our own mind. Absolve you to yourself, and 
you shall have the suffrage of the world. I remember an answer 
which when quite young 1 was prompted to make to a valued ad- 
viser who was wont to importune me with the dear old doctrines of 
the church. On my saying, What have I to do with the sacredness of 
traditions, if I live wholly from within? my friend suggested, — ^"But 
these impulses may be from below, not from above." I replied, 
"They do not seem to me to be such; but if I am the devil's child, I 
will live then from the devil." No law can be sacred to me but that 
of my nature. Good and bad are but names very readily transferable 
to that or this; the only right is what is after my constitution; the 
only wrong what is against it. A man is to carry himself in the pres- 
ence of all opposition as if every thing were titular and ephemeral 
but he. I am ashamed to think how easily we capitulate to badges 
and names, to large societies and dead institutions. Every decent and 
well-spoken individual affects and sways me more than is right. I 
ought to go upright and vital, and speak the rude truth in all ways. 
If malice and vanity wear the coat of philanthropy, shall that pass ? 
If an angry bigot assumes this bountiful cause of AboLtion, and 
comes to me with his last news from Barbadoes, why should I not say 
to him, "Go love thy infant; love thy wood<hopper; be good-natured 



SELF-RELIANCE 63 

and modest; have that grace; and never varnish your hard, unchar- 
itable ambition with this incredible tenderness for black folk a 
thousand miles off. Thy love afar is spite at home." Rough and 
graceless would be such greeting, but truth is handsomer than the 
affectation of love. Your goodness must have some edge to it, — else 
it is none. The doctrine of hatred must be preached, as the counter- 
action of the doctrine of love, when that pules and whines. I shun 
father and mother and wife and brother when my genius calls me. 
I would write on the lintels of the doorpost, Whim. I hope it is 
somewhat better than whim at last, but we cannot spend the day in 
explanation. Expect me not to show cause why I seek or why I 
exclude company. Then, again, do not tell me, as a good man did to- 
day, of my obligation to put all poor men in good situations. Are 
they my poor ? I tell thee, thou foolish philanthropist, that I grudge 
the dollar, the dime, the cent I give to such men as do not belong to 
me and to whom I do not belong. There is a class of persons to 
whom by all spiritual affinity I am bought and sold; for them I will 
go to prison if need be; but your miscellaneous popular charities; the 
education at college of fools; the building of meeting-houses to the 
vain end to which many now stand; alms to sots, and the thousand- 
fold Relief Societies; — though I confess with shame I sometimes 
succumb and give the dollar, it is a wicked dollar, which by-and-by I 
shall have the manhood to withhold. 

Virtues are, in the popular estimate, rather the exception than the 
rule. There is the man and his virtues. Men do what is called a 
good action, as some piece of courage or charity, much as they would 
pay a fine in expiation of daily non-appearance on parade. Their 
works are done as an apology or extenuation of their living in the 
world, — as invalids and the insane pay a high board. Their virtues 
are penances. I do not wish to expiate, but to hve. My Ufe is not an 
apology, but a life. It is for itself and not for a spectacle. I much pre- 
fer that it should be of a lower strain, so it be genuine and equal, 
than that it should be glittering and unsteady. I wish it to be sound 
and sweet, and not to need diet and bleeding. My life should be 
unique; it should be an alms, a battle, a conquest, a medicine. I ask 
primary evidence that you are a man, and refuse this appeal from 
the man to his actions. I know that for myself it makes no difference 



64 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

whether I do or forbear those actions which are reckoned excellent. 
I cannot consent to pay for a privilege where I have intrinsic right. 
Few and mean as my gifts may be, I actually am, and do not need 
for my own assurance or the assurance of my fellows any secondary 
testimony. 

What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think. 
This rule, equally arduous in actual and in intellectual life, may serve 
for the whole distinction between greatness and meanness. It is the 
harder because you will always find those who think they know 
what is your duty better than you know it. It is easy in the world to 
live after the world's opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our 
own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps 
with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude. 

The objection to conforming to usages that have become dead to 
you is that it scatters your force. It loses your time and blurs the 
impression of your character. If you maintain a dead church, con- 
tribute to a dead Bible Society, vote with a great party either for the 
Government or against it, spread your table like base housekeepers, — 
under all these screens I have difficulty to detect the precise man you 
are. And of course so much force is withdrawn from your proper 
life. But do your thing, and I shall know you. Do your work, and 
you shall reinforce yourself. A man must consider what a blind- 
man's-buff is this game of conformity. If I know your sect I antici- 
pate your argument. I hear a preacher announce for his text and 
topic the expediency of one of the institutions of his church. Do I 
not know beforehand that not possibly can he say a new and 
spontaneous word? Do I not know that with all this ostentation 
of examining the grounds of the institution he will do no such 
thing? Do I not know that he is pledged to himself not to look but 
at one side, the p)ermitted side, not as a man, but as a parish minister? 
He is a retained attorney, and these airs of the bench are the emptiest 
affectation. Well, most men have bound their eyes with one or 
another handkerchief, and attached themselves to some one of these 
communities of opinion. This conformity makes them not false in a 
few particulars, authors of a few lies, but false in all particulars. 
Their every truth is not quite true. Their two is not the real two, 
their four not the real four: so that every word they say chagrins us 



SELF-RELIANCE 65 

and we know not where to begin to set them right. Meantime nature 
is not slow to equip us in the prison-uniform of the party to which 
we adhere. We come to wear one cut of face and figure, and acquire 
by degrees the gentlest asinine expression. There is a mortifying 
experience in particular, which does not fail to wreak itself also in the 
general history; I mean "the foolish face of praise," the forced smile 
which we put on in company where we do not feel at ease, in answer 
to conversation which does not interest us. The muscles, not spon- 
taneously moved but moved by a low usurping wilfulness, grow 
tight about the outline of the face, and make the most disagreeable 
sensation; a sensation of rebuke and warning which no brave young 
man will suffer twice. 

For non-conformity the world whips you with its displeasure. And 
therefore a man must know how to estimate a sour face. The by- 
standers look askance on him in the public street or in the friend's 
parlor. If this aversation had its origin in contempt and resistance 
like his own he might well go home with a sad countenance; but the 
sour faces of the multitude, like their sweet faces, have no deep cause 
— disguise no god, but are put on and off as the wind blows and a 
newspaper directs. Yet is the discontent of the multitude more for- 
midable than that of the senate and the college. It is easy enough 
for a firm man who knows the world to brook the rage of the culti- 
vated classes. Their rage is decorous and prudent, for they are 
timid, as being very vulnerable themselves. But when to their fem- 
inine rage the indignation of the f)eople is added, when the ignorant 
and the poor are aroused, when the unintelligent brute force that 
lies at the bottom of society is made to growl and mow, it needs the 
habit of magnanimity and religion to treat it godlike as a trifie of no 
concernment. 

The other terror that scares us from self-trust is our consistency; 
a reverence for our past act or word because the eyes of others have 
no other data for computing our orbit than our past acts, and we are 
loath to disappoint them. 

But why should you keep your head over your shoulder? Why 
drag about this monstrous corpse of your memory, lest you contradict 
somewhat you have stated in this or that public place? Suppose you 
should contradict yourself; what then? It seems to be a rule of wis- 



66 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

dom never to rely on your memory alone, scarcely even in acts of 
pure memory, but to bring the past for judgment into the thousand- 
eyed present, and live ever in a new day. Trust your emotion. In 
your metaphysics you have denied personality to the Deity, yet when 
the devout motions of the soul come, yield to them heart and life, 
though they should clothe God with shape and color. Leave your 
theory, as Joseph his coat in the hand of the harlot, and flee. 

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by 
little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a 
great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern him- 
self with his shadow on the wall. Out upon your guarded lips! Sew 
them up with packthread, do. Else if you would be a man sp>eak 
what you think to-day in words as hard as cannon balls, and to- 
morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though 
it contradict every thing you said to-day. Ah, then, exclaim the aged 
ladies, you shall be sure to be misunderstood! Misunderstood! It is 
a right fool's word. Is it so bad then to be misunderstood ? Pythag- 
oras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and 
Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit 
that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood. 

I suppose no man can violate his nature. All the sallies of his will 
are rounded in by the law of his being, as the inequalities of Andes 
and Himmaleh are insignificant in the curve of the sphere. Nor does 
it matter how you gauge and try him. A character is like an acrostic 
or Alexandrian stanza; — read it forward, backward, or across, it 
still spells the same thing. In this pleasing contrite wood-life which 
God allows me, let me record day by day my honest thought without 
prosp)ect or retrospect, and, I cannot doubt, it will be found symmet- 
rical, though I mean it not and see it not. My book should smell of 
pines and resound with the hum of insects. The swallow over my 
window should interweave that thread or straw he carries in his bill 
into my web also. We pass for what we are. Character teaches 
above our wills. Men imagine that they communicate their virtue or 
vice only by overt actions, and do not see that virtue or vice emit a 
breath every moment. 

Fear never but you shall be consistent in whatever variety of 
actions, so they be each honest and natural in their hour. For of one 



SELF-RELIANCE 67 

will, the actions will be harmonious, however unlike they seem. 
These varieties are lost sight of when seen at a little distance, at a 
little height of thought. One tendency unites them all. The voyage 
of the best ship is a zigzag line of a hundred tacks. This is only 
microscopic criticism. See the Une from a sufficient distance, and it 
straightens itself to the average tendency. Your genuine action will 
explain itself and will explain your other genuine actions. Your con- 
formity explains nothing. Act singly, and what you have already 
done singly will justify you now. Greatness always appeals to the 
future. If I can be great enough now to do right and scorn eyes, I 
must have done so much right before as to defend me now. Be it 
how it will, do right now. Always scorn appearances and you always 
may. The force of character is cumulative. All the foregone days of 
virtue work their health into this. What makes the majesty 
of the heroes of the senate and the field, which so fills the imagina- 
tion ? The consciousness of a train of great days and victories behind. 
There they all stand and shed an united light on the advancing actor. 
He is attended as by a visible escort of angels to every man's eye. 
That is it which throws thunder into Chatham's voice, and dignity 
into Washington's port, and America into Adams's eye. Honor is 
venerable to us because it is no ephemeris. It is always ancient virtue. 
We worship it to-day because it is not of to-day. We love it and pay 
it homage because it is not a trap for our love and homage, but is 
self-dependent, self-derived, and therefore of an old immaculate 
pedigree, even if shown in a young person. 

I hope in these days we have heard the last of conformity and con- 
sistency. Let the words be gazetted and ridiculous henceforward. 
Instead of the gong for dinner, let us hear a whistle from the Spartan 
fife. Let us bow and apologize never more. A great man is coming 
to eat at my house. I do not wish to please him: I wish that he 
should wish to please me. I will stand here for humanity, and 
though I would make it kind, I would make it true. Let us affront 
and reprimand the smooth mediocrity and squalid contentment of 
the times, and hurl in the face of custom and trade and office, the 
fact which is the upshot of all history, that there is a great responsi- 
ble Thinker and Actor moving wherever moves a man; that a true 
man belongs to no other time or place, but is the centre of things. 



68 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

Where he is, there is nature. He measures you and all men and 
all events. You are constrained to accept his standard. Ordinarily, 
every body in society reminds us of somewhat else, or of some other 
person. Character, reality, reminds you of nothing else; it takes 
place of the whole creation. The man must be so much that he must 
make all circumstances indifferent — put all means into the shade. 
This all great men are and do. Every true man is a cause, a country, 
and an age; requires infinite spaces and numbers and time fully to 
accomplish his thought; — and posterity seem to follow his steps as 
a procession. A man Caesar is born, and for ages after we have a 
Roman Empire. Christ is born, and millions of minds so grow and 
cleave to his genius that he is confounded with virtue and the 
possible of man. An institution is the lengthened shadow of one 
man; as, the Reformation, of Luther; Quakerism, of Fox; Method- 
ism, of Wesley; Abolition, of Clarkson. Scipio, Milton called "the 
height of Rome;" and all history resolves itself very easily into the 
biography of a few stout and earnest persons. 

Let a man then know his worth, and keep things under his feet. 
Let him not peep or steal, or skulk up and down with the air of a 
charity-boy, a bastard, or an interloper in the world which exists 
for him. But the man in the street, finding no worth in himself 
which corresponds to the force which built a tower or sculptured a 
marble god, feels poor when he looks at these. To him a palace, a 
statue, or a costly book have an alien and forbidding air, much like 
a gay equipage, and seem to say like that, 'Who are you, sir?' Yet 
they all are his, suitors for his notice, petitioners to his faculties that 
they will come out and take possession. The picture waits for my 
verdict; it is not to command me, but I am to settle its claim to praise. 
That popular fable of the sot who was picked up dead drunk in the 
street, carried to the duke's house, washed and dressed and laid in 
the duke's bed, and, on his waking, treated with all obsequious 
ceremony like the duke, and assured that he had been insane — owes 
its popularity to the fact that it symboHzes so well the state of man, 
who is in the world a sort of sot, but now and then wakes up, exer- 
cises his reason and finds himself a true prince. 

Our reading is mendicant and sycophantic. In history our imagi- 
nation makes fools of us, plays us false. Kingdom and lordship, 



SELF-RELIANCE 69 

power and estate, are a gaudier vocabulary than private John and 
Edward in a small house and common day's work: but the things of 
life are the same to both : the sum total of both is the same. Why all 
this deference to Alfred and Scanderbeg and Gustavus? Suppose 
they were virtuous; did they wear out virtue? As great a stake de- 
pends on your private act to-day as followed their public and re- 
nowned steps. When private men shall act with original views, the 
lustre will be transferred from the actions of kings to those of 
gentlemen. 

The world has indeed been instructed by its kings, who have so 
magnetized the eyes of nations. It has been taught by this colossal 
symbol the mutual reverence that is due from man to man. The joy- 
ful loyalty with which men have everywhere suffered the king, the 
noble, or the great proprietor to walk among them by a law of his 
own, make his own scale of men and things and reverse theirs, pay 
for benefits not with money but with honor, and represent the Law 
in his person, was the hieroglyphic by which they obscurely signified 
their consciousness of their own right and comeliness, the right of 
every man. 

The magnetism which all original action exerts is explained when 
we inquire the reason of self-trust. Who is the Trustee ? What is the 
aboriginal Self, on which a universal reliance may be grounded? 
What is the nature and power of that science-baffling star, without 
parallax, without calculable elements, which shoots a ray of beauty 
even into trivial and impure actions, if the least mark of independ- 
ence appear? The inquiry leads us to that source, at once the 
essence of genius, the essence of virtue, and the essence of life, which 
we call Spontaneity or Instinct. We denote this primary wisdom as 
Intuition, whilst all later teachings are tuitions. In that deep force, 
the last fact behind which analysis cannot go, all things find their 
common origin. For the sense of being which in calm hours rises, 
we know not how, in the soul, is not diverse from things, from space, 
from light, from time, from man, but one with them and proceedeth 
obviously from the same source whence their life and being also pro- 
ceedeth. We first share the life by which things exist and afterwards 
see them as appearances in nature and forget that we have shared 
their cause. Here is the fountain of action and the fountain of 



70 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

thought. Here are the lungs of that inspiration which giveth man 
wisdom, of that inspiration of man which cannot be denied without 
impiety and atheism. We Ue in the lap of immense intelligence, 
which makes us organs of its activity and receivers of its truth. 
When we discern justice, when we discern truth, we do nothing of 
ourselves, but allow a passage to its beams. If we ask whence this 
comes, if we seek to pry into the soul that causes — all metaphysics, all 
philosophy is at fault. Its presence or its absence is all we can affirm. 
Every man discerns between the voluntary acts of his mind and his 
involuntary perceptions. And to his involuntary perceptions he 
knows a perfect respect is due. He may err in the expression of 
them, but he knows that these things are so, like day and night, not 
to be disputed. All my wilful actions and acquisitions are but rov- 
ing; — the most trivial reverie, the faintest native emotion, are domes- 
tic and divine. Thoughtless people contradict as readily the state- 
ment of {perceptions as of opinions, or rather much more readily; for 
they do not distinguish between perception and notion. They fancy 
that I choose to see this or that thing. But perception is not whim- 
sical, but fatal. If I see a trait, my children will see it after me, and 
in course of time all mankind, — although it may chance that no one 
has seen it before me. For my perception of it is as much a fact as 
the sun. 

The relations of the soul to the divine spirit are so pure that it is 
profane to seek to interpose helps. It must be that when God speak- 
eth he should communicate, not one thing, but all things; should 
fill the world with his voice; should scatter forth Ught, nature, time, 
souls, from the centre of the present thought; and new date and new 
create the whole. Whenever a mind is simple and receives a divine 
wisdom, then old things pass away, — means, teachers, texts, temples 
fall; it Uves now, and absorbs past and future into the present hour. 
All things are made sacred by relation to it, — one thing as much as 
another. All things are dissolved to their centre by their cause, and 
in the universal miracle petty and particular miracles disappear. This 
is and must be. If therefore a man claims to know and speak of God 
and carries you backward to the phraseology of some old mouldered 
nation in another country, in another world, beheve him not. Is the 
acorn better than the oak which is its fulness and completion? Is 



SELF-RELIANCE 7 1 

the parent better than the child into whom he has cast his ripened 
being? Whence then this worship of the past? The centuries are 
conspirators against the sanity and majesty of the soul. Time and 
space are but physiological colors which the eye maketh, but the soul 
is light; where it is, is day; where it was, is night; and history is an 
impertinence and an injury if it be any thing more than a cheerful 
apologue or parable of my being and becoming. 

Man is timid and apologetic; he is no longer upright; he dares not 
say "I think," "I am," but quotes some saint or sage. He is ashamed 
before the blade of grass or the blowing rose. These roses under my 
window make no reference to former roses or to better ones; they are 
for what they are; they exist with God to-day. There is no time to 
them. There is simply the rose; it is perfect in every moment of its 
existence. Before a leaf-bud has burst, its whole life acts; in the full- 
blown flower there is no more; in the leafless root there is no less. 
Its nature is satisfied and it satisfies nature in all moments alike. 
There is no time to it. But man postpones or remembers; he does not 
hve in the present, but with reverted eye laments the past, or, heed- 
less of the riches that surround him, stands on tiptoe to foresee the 
future. He cannot be happy and strong until he too Uves with nature 
in the present, above time. 

This should be plain enough. Yet see what strong intellects dare 
not yet hear God himself unless he speak the phraseology of I know 
not what David, or Jeremiah, or Paul. We shall not always set so 
great a price on a few texts, on a few lives. We are like children 
who repeat by rote the sentences of grandames and tutors, and, as 
they grow older, of the men of talents and character they chance to 
see, — painfully recollecting the exact words they spoke; afterwards, 
when they come into the point of view which those had who uttered 
these sayings, they understand them and are willing to let the words 
go; for at any time they can use words as good when occasion comes. 
So was it with us, so will it be, if we proceed. If we live truly, we 
shall see truly. It is as easy for the strong man to be strong, as it is 
for the weak to be weak. When we have new p)erception, we shall 
gladly disburthen the memory of its hoarded treasures as old rubbish. 
When a man lives with God, his voice shall be as sweet as the mur- 
mur of the brook and the rustle of the corn. 



72 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

And now at last the highest truth on this subject remains unsaid; 
probably cannot be said; for all that we say is the far off remember- 
ing of the intuition. That thought, by what I can now nearest 
approach to say it, is this. When good is near you, when you have 
life in yourself, — it is not by any known or appointed way; you shall 
not discern the footprints of any other; you shall not see the face of 
man; you shall not hear any name; — the way, the thought, the good, 
shall be wholly strange and new. It shall exclude all other being. 
You take the way from man, not to man. All persons that ever 
existed are its fugitive ministers. There shall be no fear in it. Fear 
and hope are alike beneath it. It asks nothing. There is somewhat 
low even in hope. We are then in vision. There is nothing that can 
be called gratitude, nor properly joy. The soul is raised over passion. 
It seeth identity and eternal causation. It is a perceiving that Truth 
and Right are. Hence it becomes a Tranquillity out of the knowing 
that all things go well. Vast spaces of nature; the Atlantic Ocean, the 
South Sea; vast intervals of time, years, centuries, are of no account. 
This which I think and feel underlay that former state of life and 
circumstances, as it does underlie my present and will always all 
circumstances, and what is called life and what is called death. 

Life only avails, not the having lived. Power ceases in the instant 
of repose; it resides in the moment of transition from a past to a 
new state, in the shooting of the gulf, in the darting to an aim. This 
one fact the world hates, that the soul becomes; for that forever 
degrades the past; turns all riches to poverty, all reputation to a 
shame; confounds the saint with the rogue; shoves Jesus and Judas 
equally aside. Why then do we prate of self-reliance? Inasmuch as 
the soul is present there will be power not confident but agent. To 
talk of reliance is a poor external way of speaking. Speak rather of 
that which relies because it works and is. Who has more soul than 
I masters me, though he should not raise his finger. Round him I 
must revolve by the gravitation of spirits. Who has less I rule with 
like facility. We fancy it rhetoric when we speak of eminent virtue. 
We do not yet see that virtue is Height, and that a man or a com- 
pany of men, plastic and permeable to principles, by the law of nature 
must overpower and ride all cities, nations, kings, rich men, poets, 
who are not. 



SELF-RELIANCE 73 

This is the ultimate fact which we so quickly reach on this, as 
on every topic, the resolution of all into the ever-blessed One. Virtue 
is the governor, the creator, the reality. All things real are so by so 
much virtue as they contain. Hardship, husbandry, hunting, whal- 
ing, war, eloquence, personal weight, are somewhat, and engage my 
respect as examples of the soul's presence and impure action. I see 
the same law working in nature for conservation and growth. The 
poise of a planet, the bended tree recovering itself from the strong 
wind, the vital resources of every animal and vegetable, are also 
demonstrations of the self-sufficing and therefore self-relying soul. 
All history, from its highest to its trivial passages, is the various 
record of this power. 

Thus all concentrates; let us not rove; let us sit at home with the 
cause. Let us stun and astonish the intruding rabble of men and 
books and institutions by a simple declaration of the divine fact. 
Bid them take the shoes from off their feet, for God is here within. 
Let our simplicity judge them, and our docility to our own law 
demonstrate the poverty of nature and fortune beside our native 
riches. 

But now we are a mob. Man does not stand in awe of man, nor is 
the soul admonished to stay at home, to put itself in communication 
with the internal ocean, but it goes abroad to beg a cup of water of 
the urns of men. We must go alone. Isolation must precede true 
society. I like the silent church before the service begins, better 
than any preaching. How far off, how cool, how chaste the persons 
look, begirt each one with a precinct or sanctuary. So let us always 
sit. Why should we assume the faults of our friend, or wife, or 
father, or child, because they sit around our hearth, or are said to 
have the same blood ? All men have my blood and I have all men's. 
Not for that will I adopt their petulance or folly, even to the extent 
of being ashamed of it. But your isolation must not be mechanical, 
but spiritual, that is, must be elevation. At times the whole world 
seems to be in conspiracy to importune you with emphatic trifles. 
Friend, client, child, sickness, fear, want, charity, all knock at once 
at thy closet door and say, "Come out unto us." — Do not spill thy 
soul; do not all descend; keep thy state; stay at home in thine own 
heaven; come not for a moment into their facts, into their hubbub 



74 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

of conflicting appearances, but let in the light of thy law on their 
confusion. The power men possess to annoy me I give them by a 
weak curiosity. No man can come near me but through my act. 
"What we love that we have, but by desire we bereave ourselves of 
the love." 

If we cannot at once rise to the sanctities of obedience and faith, let 
us at least resist our temptations, let us enter into the state of war and 
wake Thor and Woden, courage and constancy, in our Saxon breasts. 
This is to be done in our smooth times by speaking the truth. Check 
this lying hospitality and lying aiTection. Live no longer to the ex- 
pectation of these deceived and deceiving people with whom we 
converse. Say to them, O father, O mother, O wife, O brother, O 
friend, I have lived with you after appearances hitherto. Hencefor- 
ward I am the truth's. Be it known unto you that henceforward I 
obey no law less than the eternal law. I will have no covenants but 
proximities. I shall endeavor to nourish my parents, to support my 
family, to be the chaste husband of one wife, — but these relations I 
must fill after a new and unprecedented way, I appeal from your 
customs. I must be myself. I cannot break myself any longer for 
you, or you. If you can love me for what I am, we shall be happier. 
If you cannot, I will still seek to deserve that you should. I must be 
myself. I will not hide my tastes or aversions. I will so trust that 
what is deep is holy, that I will do strongly before the sun and moon 
whatever inly rejoices me and the heart appoints. If you are noble, I 
will love you; if you are not, I will not hurt you and myself by 
hypocritical attentions. If you are true, but not in the same truth 
with me, cleave to your companions; I will seek my own. I do this 
not selfishly but humbly and truly. It is alike your interest, and 
mine, and all men's, however long we have dwelt in lies, to live in 
truth. Does this sound harsh to-day? You will soon love what is 
dictated by your nature as well as mine, and if we follow the truth 
it will bring us out safe at last. — But so may you give these friends 
pain. Yes, but I cannot sell my liberty and my power, to save their 
sensibility. Besides, all persons have their moments of reason, when 
they look out into the region of absolute truth; then will they justify 
me and do the same thing. 

The populace think that your rejection of popular standards is a 



SELF-RELIANCE 75 

rejection of all standard, and mere antinomianism; and the bold sen- 
sualist will use the name of philosophy to gild his crimes. But the 
law of consciousness abides. There are two confessionals, in one or 
the other of which we must be shriven. You may fulfil your round 
of duties by clearing yourself in the direct, or in the reflex way. Con- 
sider whether you have satisfied your relations to father, mother, 
cousin, neighbor, town, cat and dog; whether any of these can up- 
braid you. But I may also neglect this reflex standard and absolve 
me to myself. I have my own stern claims and perfect circle. It 
denies the name of duty to many offices that are called duties. But if 
I can discharge its debts it enables me to dispense with the popular 
code. If any one imagines that this law is lax, let him keep its com- 
mandment one day. 

And truly it demands something godlike in him who has cast ofl 
the common motives of humanity and has ventured to trust himself 
for a task-master. High be his heart, faithful his will, clear his sight, 
that he may in good earnest be doctrine, society, law, to himself, that 
a simple purjx)se may be to him as strong as iron necessity is to 
others. 

If any man consider the present aspects of what is called by distinc- 
tion society, he will see the need of these ethics. The sinew and heart 
of man seem to be drawn out, and we are become timorous despond- 
ing whimf)erers. We are afraid of truth, afraid of fortune, afraid of 
death, and afraid of each other. Our age yields no great and perfect 
persons. We want men and women who shall renovate life and our 
social state, but we see that most natures are insolvent; cannot satisfy 
their own wants, have an ambition out of all proportion to their 
practical force, and so do lean and beg day and night continually. 
Our housekeeping is mendicant, our arts, our occupations, our 
marriages, our religion we have not chosen, but society has chosen 
for us. We are parlor soldiers. The rugged battle of fate, where 
strength is born, we shun. 

If our young men miscarry in their first enterprises they lose all 
heart. If the young merchant fails, men say he is ruined. If the finest 
genius studies at one of our colleges, and is not installed in an office 
within one year afterwards, in the cities or suburbs of Boston or New 
York, it seems to his friends and to himself that he is right in being 



76 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

disheartened and in complaining the rest of his life. A sturdy lad 
from New Hampshire or Vermont, who in turn tries all the pro- 
fessions, who teams it, farms it, peddles, keeps a school, preaches, 
edits a newspaper, goes to Congress, buys a township, and so forth, in 
successive years, and always like a cat falls on his feet, is worth a 
hundred of these city dolls. He walks abreast with his days and feels 
no shame in not "studying a profession," for he does not postpone his 
life, but lives already. He has not one chance, but a hundred chances. 
Let a stoic arise who shall reveal the resources of man and tell men 
they are not leaning willows, but can and must detach themselves; 
that with the exercise of self-trust, new powers shall appear; that a 
man is the word made flesh, born to shed healing to the nations, that 
he should be ashamed of our compassion, and that the moment he 
acts from himself, tossing the laws, the books, idolatries and customs 
out of the window, — we pity him no more but thank and revere 
him; — and that teacher shall restore the life of man to splendor and 
make his name dear to all History. 

It is easy to see that a greater self-reliance — a new respect for the 
divinity in man — must work a revolution in all the offices and rela- 
tions of men; in their religion; in their education; in their pursuits; 
their modes of living; their association; in their property; in their 
sf)eculative views. 

I. In what prayers do men allow themselves! That which they call 
a holy office is not so much as brave and manly. Prayer looks abroad 
and asks for some foreign addition to come through some foreign 
virtue, and loses itself in endless mazes of natural and supernatural, 
and mediatorial and miraculous. Prayer that craves a particular com- 
modity — anything less than all good, is vicious. Prayer is the contem- 
plation of the facts of life from the highest point of view. It is the 
soliloquy of a beholding and jubilant soul. It is the spirit of God 
pronouncing his works good. But prayer as a means to effect a 
private end is theft and meanness. It supposes dualism and not unity 
in nature and consciousness. As soon as the man is at one with God, 
he will not beg. He will then see prayer in all action. The prayer 
of the farmer kneeling in his field to weed it, the prayer of the rower 
kneeling with the stroke of his oar, are true prayers heard throughout 
nature, though for cheap ends. Caratach, in Fletcher's Bonduca, 



SELF-RELIANCE 77 

when admonished to inquire the mind of the god Audate, replies; 

His hidden meaning lies in our endeavors; 
Our valors are our best gods. 

Another sort of false prayers are our regrets. Discontent is the 
want of self-reliance : it is infirmity of will. Regret calamities if you 
can thereby help the sufferer; if not, attend your own work and 
already the evil begins to be repaired. Our sympathy is just as base. 
We come to them who weep foolishly and sit down and cry for 
company, instead of imparting to them truth and health in rough 
electric shocks, putting them once more in communication with the 
soul. The secret of fortune is joy in our hands. Welcome evermore 
to gods and men is the self-helping man. For him all doors are flung 
wide. Him all tongues greet, all honors crown, all eyes follow with 
desire. Our love goes out to him and embraces him because he did 
not need it. We solicitously and apologetically caress and celebrate 
him because he held on his way and scorned our disapprobation. 
The gods love him because men hated him. "To the persevering 
mortal," said Zoroaster, "the blessed Immortals are swift." 

As men's prayers are a disease of the will, so are their creeds a 
disease of the intellect. They say with those foolish Israelites, "Let 
not God speak to us, lest we die. Speak thou, speak any man with us, 
and we will obey." Everywhere I am bereaved of meeting God in 
my brother, because he has shut his own temple doors and recites 
fables merely of his brother's, or his brother's brother's God. Every 
new mind is a new classification. If it prove a mind of uncommon 
activity and power, a LxKke, a Lavoisier, a Hutton, a Bentham, a 
Spurzheim, it imposes its classification on other men, and lo! a new 
system. In proportion always to the depth of the thought, and so to 
the number of the objects it touches and brings within reach of the 
pupil, is his complacency. But chiefly is this apparent in creeds and 
churches, which are also classifications of some powerful mind acting 
on the great elemental thought of Duty and man's relation to the 
Highest. Such is Calvinism, Quakerism, Swedenborgianism. The 
pupil takes the same delight in subordinating every thing to the new 
terminology that a girl does who has just learned botany in seeing a 
new earth and new seasons thereby. It will happen for a time that 



yS RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

the pupil will feel a real debt to the teacher — will find his intellectual 
power has grown by the study of his writings. This will continue 
until he has exhausted his master's mind. But in all unbalanced 
minds the classification is idolized, passes for the end and not for a 
speedily exhaustible means, so that the walls of the system blend to 
their eye in the remote horizon with the walls of the universe; the 
luminaries of heaven seem to them hung on the arch their master 
built. They cannot imagine how you aliens have any right to see — 
how you can see; "It must be somehow that you stole the light from 
us." They do not yet perceive that light, unsystematic, indomitable, 
will break into any cabin, even into theirs. Let them chirp awhile 
and call it their own. If they are honest and do well, presently their 
neat new pinfold will be too strait and low, will crack, will lean, will 
rot and vanish, and the immortal light, all young and joyful, million- 
orbed, million-colored, will beam over the universe as on the first 
morning. 

2. It is for want of self<ulture that the idol of Travelling, the idol 
of Italy, of England, of Egypt, remains for all educated Americans. 
They who made England, Italy, or Greece venerable in the imagina- 
tion, did so not by rambling round creation as a moth round a lamp, 
but by sticking fast where they were, like an axis of the earth. In 
manly hours we feel that duty is our place and that the merry men of 
circumstance should follow as they may. The soul is no traveller: 
the wise man stays at home with the soul, and when his necessities, 
his duties, on any occasion call him from his house, or into foreign 
lands, he is at home still and is not gadding abroad from himself, 
and shall make men sensible by the expression of his countenance 
that he goes, the missionary of wisdom and virtue, and visits cities 
and men like a sovereign and not Uke an interloper or a valet. 

I have no churlish objection to the circumnavigation of the globe 
for the purposes of art, of study, and benevolence, so that the man is 
first domesticated, or does not go abroad with the hope of finding 
somewhat greater than he knows. He who travels to be amused or 
to get somewhat which he does not carry, travels away from himself, 
and grows old even in youth among old things. In Thebes, in Pal- 
myra, his will and mind have become old and dilapidated as they. 
He carries ruins to ruins. 



SELF-RELIANCE 79 

Travelling is a fool's paradise. We owe to our first journeys the 
discovery that place is nothing. At home I dream that at Naples, at 
Rome, I can be intoxicated with beauty and lose my sadness. I pack 
my trunk, embrace my friends, embark on the sea and at last wake 
up in Naples, and there beside me is the stern Fact, the sad self, unre- 
lenting, identical, that I fled from. I seek the Vatican and the palaces. 
I aflect to be intoxicated with sights and suggestions, but I am not 
intoxicated. My giant goes with me wherever I go. 

3. But the rage of travelling is itself only a symptom of a deeper 
unsoundness affecting the whole intellectual action. The intellect 
is vagabond, and the universal system of education fosters restless- 
ness. Our minds travel when our bodies are forced to stay at home. 
We imitate; and what is imitation but the travelling of the mind? 
Our houses are built with foreign taste; our shelves are garnished 
with foreign ornaments; our opinions, our tastes, our whole minds, 
lean, and follow the Past and the Distant, as the eyes of a maid fol- 
low her mistress. The soul created the arts wherever they have flour- 
ished. It was in his own mind that the artist sought his model. It 
was an application of his own thought to the thing to be done and 
the conditions to be observed. And why need we copy the Doric or 
the Gothic model? Beauty, convenience, grandeur of thought and 
quaint expression are as near to us as to any, and if the American 
artist will study with hope and love the precise thing to be done by 
him, considering the climate, the soil, the length of the day, the wants 
of the people, the habit and form of the government, he will create 
a house in which all these will find themselves fitted, and taste and 
sentiment will be satisfied also. 

Insist on yourself; never imitate. Your own gift you can present 
every moment with the cumulative force of a whole life's cultivation; 
but of the adopted talent of another you have only an extempora- 
neous half possession. That which each can do best, none but his 
Maker can teach him. No man yet knows what it is, nor can, till 
that person has exhibited it. Where is the master who could have 
taught Shakspeare? Where is the master who could have instructed 
Franklin, or Washington, or Bacon, or Newton? Every great man 
is an unique. The Scipionism of Scipio is precisely that part he could 
not borrow. If anybody will tell me whom the great man imitates 



8o RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

in the original crisis when he jjerforms a great act, I will tell him 
who else than himself can teach him. Shaksf)eare will never be 
made by the study of Shaksf)eare. Do that which is assigned thee 
and thou canst not hope too much or dare too much. There is at this 
moment, there is for me an utterance bare and grand as that of the 
colossal chisel of Phidias, or trowel of the Egyptians, or the pen of 
Moses or Dante, but different from all these. Not possibly will the 
soul, all rich, all eloquent, with thousand<loven tongue, deign to 
repeat itself; but if I can hear what these patriarchs say, surely I can 
reply to them in the same pitch of voice; for the ear and the tongue 
are two organs of one nature. Dwell up there in the simple and 
noble regions of thy life, obey thy heart and thou shalt reproduce the 
Foreworld again. 

4. As our Religion, our Education, our Art look abroad, so does 
our spirit of society. All men plume themselves on the improvement 
of society, and no man improves. 

Society never advances. It recedes as fast on one side as it gains 
on the other. Its progress is only apparent like the workers of a 
treadmill. It undergoes continual changes; it is barbarous, it is civil- 
ized, it is christianized, it is rich, it is scientific; but this change is not 
amelioration. For every thing that is given something is taken. 
Society acquires new arts and loses old instincts. What a contrast 
between the well-clad, reading, writing, thinking American, with a 
watch, a p)encil and a bill of exchange in his pocket, and the naked 
New Zealander, whose property is a club, a sf)ear, a mat and an 
undivided twentieth of a shed to sleep under. But compare the 
health of the two men and you shall see that his aboriginal strength, 
the white man has lost. If the traveller tell us truly, strike the savage 
with a broad axe and in a day or two the flesh shall unite and heal 
as if you struck the blow into soft pitch, and the same blow shall send 
the white man to his grave. 

The civilized man has built a coach, but has lost the use of 
his feet. He is supported on crutches, but lacks so much support of 
muscle. He has got a fine Geneva watch, but he has lost the skill to 
tell the hour by the sun. A Greenwich nautical almanac he has, and 
so being sure of the information when he wants it, the man in the 
street does not know a star in the sky. The solstice he does not 



SELF-RELIANCE 8 1 

observe; the equinox he knows as little; and the whole bright calen- 
dar of the year is without a dial in his mind. His note-books impair 
his memory: his libraries overload his wit; the insurance-office 
increases the number of accidents; and it may be a question whether 
machinery does not encumber; whether we have not lost by refine- 
ment some energy, by a Christianity entrenched in establishments 
and forms some vigor of wild virtue. For every stoic was a stoic; but 
in Christendom where is the Christian? 

There is no more deviation in the moral standard than in the 
standard of height or bulk. No greater men are now than ever were. 
A singular equality may be observed between the great men of the 
first and of the last ages; nor can all the science, art, religion, and 
philosophy of the nineteenth century avail to educate greater men 
than Plutarch's heroes, three or four and twenty centuries ago. Not 
in time is the race progressive. Phocion, Socrates, Anaxagoras, Diog- 
enes, are great men, but they leave no class. He who is really of 
their class will not be called by their name, but be wholly his own 
man, and in his turn the founder of a sect. The arts and inventions 
of each period are only its costume and do not invigorate men. The 
harm of the improved machinery may compensate its good. Hudson 
and Behring accomplished so much in their fishing-boats as to aston- 
ish Parry and Franklin, whose equipment exhausted the resources 
of science and art. Galileo, with an opera-glass, discovered a more 
splendid series of facts than any one since. Columbus found the New 
World in an undecked boat. It is curious to see the periodical disuse 
and perishing of means and machinery which were introduced with 
loud laudation a few years or centuries before. The great genius 
returns to essential man. We reckoned the improvements of the art 
of war among the triumphs of science, and yet Napoleon conquered 
Europe by the Bivouac, which consisted of falling back on naked 
valor and disencumbering it of all aids. The Emperor held it im- 
possible to make a }:)erfect army, says Las Cases, "without abolishing 
our arms, magazines, commissaries and carriages, until, in imitation 
of the Roman custom, the soldier should receive his supply of corn, 
grind it in his hand-mill and bake his bread himself." 

Society is a wave. The wave moves onward, but the water of 
which it is composed does not. The same particle does not rise from 



82 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

the valley to the ridge. Its unity is only phenomenal. The persons 
who make up a nation to-day, die, and their experience with them. 
And so the reliance on Property, including the reliance on govern- 
ments which protect it, is the want of self-reliance. Men have looked 
away from themselves and at things so long that they have come to 
esteem what they call the soul's progress, namely, the religious, 
learned and civil institutions as guards of property, and they depre- 
cate assaults on these, because they feel them to be assaults on 
property. They measure their esteem of each other by what each has, 
and not by what each is. But a cultivated man becomes ashamed of 
his property, ashamed of what he has, out of new respect for his 
being. Especially he hates what he has if he sees that it is accidental, 
— came to him by inheritance, or gift, or crime; then he feels that it 
is not having; it does not belong to him, has no root in him, and 
merely lies there because no revolution or no robber takes it away. 
But that which a man is, does always by necessity acquire, and what 
the man acquires, is permanent and living property, which does not 
wait the beck of rulers, or mobs, or revolutions, or fire, or storm, or 
bankruptcies, but perpetually renews itself wherever the man is put. 
"Thy lot or portion of life," said the Caliph Ali, "is seeking after 
thee; therefore be at rest from seeking after it." Our dependence on 
these foreign goods leads us to our slavish respect for numbers. The 
political parties meet in numerous conventions; the greater the con- 
course and with each new uproar of announcement. The delegation 
from Essex! The Democrats from New Hampshire! The Whigs of 
Maine! the young patriot feels himself stronger than before by a new 
thousand of eyes and arms. In like manner the reformers summon 
conventions and vote and resolve in multitude. But not so O friends! 
will the God deign to enter and inhabit you, but by a method pre- 
cisely the reverse. It is only as a man puts off from himself ali 
external support and stands alone that I see him to be strong and to 
prevail. He is weaker by every recruit to his banner. Is not a man 
better than a town ? Ask nothing of men, and, in the endless muta- 
tion, thou only firm column must presently appear the upholder of 
all that surrounds thee. He who knows that power is in the soul, 
that he is weak only because he has looked for good out of him and 
elsewhere, and, so perceiving, throws himself unhesitatingly on his 



SELF-RELIANCE 83 

thought, instantly rights himself, stands in the erect position, com- 
mands his limbs, works miracles; just as a man who stands on his 
feet is stronger than a man who stands on his head. 

So use all that is called Fortune. Most men gamble with her, and 
gain all, and lose all, as her wheel rolls. But do thou leave as unlaw- 
ful these winnings, and deal with Cause and Effect, the chancellors 
of God. In the Will work and acquire, and thou hast chained the 
wheel of Chance, and shalt always drag her after thee. A political 
victory, a rise of rents, the recovery of your sick or the return of your 
absent friend, or some other quite external event raises your spirits, 
and you think good days are preparing for you. Do not believe it. 
It can never be so. Nothing can bring you peace but yourself. Noth- 
ing can bring you peace but the triumph of principles. 



COMPENSATION 

(1841) 

EVER since I was a boy I have wished to write a discourse on 
Compensation; for it seemed to me when very young that 
on this subject Life was ahead of theology and the people 
knew more than the preachers taught. The documents too from 
which the doctrine is to be drawn, charmed my fancy by their 
endless variety, and lay always before me, even in sleep; for they are 
the tools in our hands, the bread in our basket, the transactions of 
the street, the farm and the dwelling-house; the greetings, the rela- 
tions, the debts and credits, the influence of character, the nature and 
endowment of all men. It seemed to me also that in it might be 
shown men a ray of divinity, the present action of the Soul of this 
world, clean from all vestige of tradition; and so the heart of man 
might be bathed by an inundation of eternal love, conversing with 
that which he knows was always and always must be, because it 
really is now. It appeared moreover that if this doctrine could be 
stated in terms with any resemblance to those bright intuitions in 
which this truth is sometimes revealed to us, it would be a star in 
many dark hours and crooked passages in our journey, that would 
not suffer us to lose our way. 

I was lately confirmed in these desires by hearing a sermon at 
church. The preacher, a man esteemed for his orthodoxy, unfolded 
in the ordinary manner the doctrine of the Last Judgment. He 
assumed that judgment is not executed in this world; that the wicked 
are successful; that the good are miserable; and then urged from 
reason and from Scripture a compensation to be made to both parties 
in the next life. No offence appeared to be taken by the congregation 
at this doctrine. As far as I could observe when the meeting broke 
up they separated without remark on the sermon. 

Yet what was the import of this teaching? What did the preacher 
mean by saying that the good are miserable in the present Ufe? 

85 



86 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

Was it that houses and lands, offices, wine, horses, dress, luxury, are 
had by unprincipled men, whilst the saints are poor and despised; 
and that a compensation is to be made to these last hereafter, by giv- 
ing them the like gratifications another day, — bank-stock and dou- 
bloons, venison and champagne? This must be the compensation 
intended; for what else? Is it that they are to have leave to pray and 
praise? to love and serve men? Why, that they can do now. The 
legitimate inference the disciple would draw was, "We are to have 
such a good time as the sinners have now"; — or, to push it to its 
extreme import, — "You sin now, we shall sin by-and-by; we would 
sin now, if we could; not being successful we expect our revenge 
tomorrow." 

The fallacy lay in the immense concession that the bad are 
successful; that justice is not done now. The blindness of the 
preacher consisted in deferring to the base estimate of the market 
of what constitutes a manly success, instead of confronting and 
convicting the world from the truth; announcing the Presence of 
the Soul; the omnipotence of the Will; and so establishing the 
standard of good and ill, of success and falsehood, and summoning 
the dead to its present tribunal. 

I find a similar base tone in the popular religious works of the day 
and the same doctrines assumed by the literary men when occasion- 
ally they treat the related topics. I think that our popular theology 
has gained in decorum, and not in principle, over the superstitions 
it has displaced. But men are better than this theology. Their daily 
life gives it the lie. Every ingenuous and aspiring soul leaves the 
doctrine behind him in his own exp)erience, and all men feel some- 
times the falsehood which they cannot demonstrate. For men are 
wiser than they know. That which they hear in schools and pulpits 
without afterthought, if said in conversation would probably be 
questioned in silence. If a man dogmatize in a mixed company on 
Providence and the divine laws, he is answered by a silence which 
conveys well enough to an observer the dissatisfaction of the hearer, 
but his incapacity to make his own statement. 

I shall attempt in this and the following chapter to record some 
facts that indicate the path of the law of Compensation; happy 



COMPENSATION 87 

beyond my expectation if I shall truly draw the smallest arc of this 
circle. 

Polarity, or action and reaction, we meet in every part of nature; 
in darkness and light, in heat and cold; in the ebb and flow of 
waters; in male and female; in the inspiration and expiration of 
plants and animals; in the systole and diastole of the heart; in the 
undulations of fluids and of sound; in the centrifugal and centripetal 
gravity; in electricity, galvanism, and chemical affinity. Superinduce 
magnetism at one end of a needle, the opposite magnetism takes 
place at the other end. If the south attracts, the north repels. To 
empty here, you must condense there. An inevitable dualism bisects 
nature, so that each thing is a half, and suggests another thing to 
make it whole; as, spirit, matter; man, woman; subjective, objective; 
in, out; upper, under; motion, rest; yea, nay. 

Whilst the world is thus dual, so is every one of its parts. The 
entire system of things gets represented in every particle. There is 
somewhat that resembles the ebb and flow of the sea, day and night, 
man and woman, in a single needle of the pine, in a kernel of corn, 
in each individual of every animal tribe. The reaction, so grand in 
the elements, is repeated within these small boundaries. For ex- 
ample, in the animal kingdom the physiologist has observed that no 
creatures are favorites, but a certain compensation balances every gift 
and every defect. A surplusage given to one part is paid out of a 
reduction from another part of the same creature. If the head and 
neck are enlarged, the trunk and extremities are cut short. 

The theory of the mechanic forces is another example. What we 
gain in power is lost in time, and the converse. The periodic or 
compensating errors of the planets is another instance. The influ- 
ences of climate and soil in pwlitical history are another. The cold 
climate invigorates. The barren soil does not breed fevers, crocodiles, 
tigers, or scorpions. 

The same dualism underlies the nature and condition of man. 
Every excess causes a defect; every defect an excess. Every sweet 
hath its sour; every evil its good. Every faculty which is a receiver of 
pleasure has an equal penalty put on its abuse. It is to answer for its 
moderation with its life. For every grain of wit there is a grain of 



88 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

folly. For every thing you have missed, you have gained something 
else; and for every thing you gain, you lose something. If riches in- 
crease, they are increased that use them. If the gatherer gathers too 
much, nature takes out of the man what she puts into his chest; 
swells the estate, but kills the owner. Nature hates monopolies and 
exceptions. The waves of the sea do not more speedily seek a level 
from their loftiest tossing than the varieties of condition tend to 
equalize themselves. There is always some levelling circumstance 
that puts down the overbearing, the strong, the rich, the fortunate, 
substantially on the same ground with all others. Is a man too 
strong and fierce for society and by temper and position a bad citizen, 
— a morose ruffian, with a dash of the pirate in him? — nature sends 
him a troop of pretty sons and daughters who are getting along in 
the dame's classes at the village school, and love and fear for them 
smooths his grim scowl to courtesy. Thus she contrives to intenerate 
the granite and felspar, takes the boar out and puts the lamb in and 
keeps her balance true. 

The farmer imagines power and place are fine things. But the 
President has paid dear for his White House. It has commonly cost 
him all his peace, and the best of his manly attributes. To preserve 
for a short time so conspicuous an appearance before the world, he 
is content to eat dust before the real masters who stand erect behind 
the throne. Or do men desire the more substantial and permanent 
grandeur of genius? Neither has this an immunity. He who by 
force of will or of thought is great and overlooks thousands, has the 
responsibility of overlooking. With every influx of light comes new 
danger. Has he light ? he must bear witness to the light, and always 
outrun that sympathy which gives him such keen satisfaction, by 
his fidelity to new revelations of the incessant soul. He must hate 
father and mother, wife and child. Has he all that the world loves 
and admires and covets? — he must cast behind him their admiration 
and afflict them by faithfulness to his truth and become a byword and 
a hissing. 

This Law writes the laws of the cities and nations. It will not be 
baulked of its end in the smallest iota. It is in vain to build or plot 
or combine against it. Things refuse to be mismanaged long. Res 
nolunt diu male administrari. Though no checks to a new evil 



COMPENSATION 89 

appear, the checks exist, and will appear. If the government is cruel, 
the governor's life is not safe. If you tax too high, the revenue will 
yield nothing. If you make the criminal code sanguinary, juries will 
not convict. Nothing arbitrary, nothing artificial can endure. The 
true life and satisfactions of man seem to elude the utmost rigors 
or felicities of condition and to establish themselves with great 
indifferency under all varieties of circumstance. Under all govern- 
ments the influence of character remains the same, — in Turkey and 
New England about alike. Under the primeval despots of Egypt, 
history honestly confesses that man must have been as free as culture 
could make him. 

These appearances indicate the fact that the universe is repre- 
sented in every one of its particles. Every thing in nature contains 
all the powers of nature. Every thing is made of one hidden stuff; as 
the naturalist sees one type under every metamorphosis, and regards 
a horse as a running man, a fish as a swimming man, a bird as a 
flying man, a tree as a rooted man. Each new form repeats not only 
the main character of the type, but part for part all the details, all the 
aims, furtherances, hindrances, energies and whole system of every 
other. Every occupation, trade, art, transaction, is a compend of the 
world and a correlative of every other. Each one is an entire 
emblem of human life; of its good and ill, its trials, its enemies, its 
course and its end. And each one must somehow accommodate the 
whole man and recite all his destiny. 

The world globes itself in a drop of dew. The microscope cannot 
find the animalcule which is less perfect for being litde. Eyes, ears, 
taste, smell, motion, resistance, appetite, and organs of reproduction 
that take hold on eternity, — all find room to consist in the small crea- 
ture. So do we put our life into every act. The true doctrine of 
omnipresence is that God reappears with all his parts in every moss 
and cobweb. The value of the universe contrives to throw itself into 
every point. If the good is there, so is the evil; if the affinity, so the 
repulsion; if the force, so the limitation. 

Thus is the universe alive. All things are moral. That soul which 
within us is a sentiment, outside of us is a law. We feel its inspira- 
tions; out there in history we can see its fatal strength. It is almighty. 
All nature feels its grasp. "It is in the world, and the world was 



90 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

made by it." It is eternal but it enacts itself in time and space. Jus- 
tice is not postponed. A perfect equity adjusts its balance in all 
parts of life. Oi ku/Soi Aids del tv TiTTovai. The dice of God are 
always loaded. The world looks like a multiplication-table, or a 
mathematical equation, which, turn it how you will, balances itself. 
Take what figure you will, its exact value, nor more nor less, still 
returns to you. Every secret is told, every crime is punished, every 
virtue rewarded, every wrong redressed, in silence and certainty. 
What we call retribution is the universal necessity by which the 
whole appears wherever a part appears. If you see smoke, there 
must be fire. If you see a hand or a limb, you know that the trunk 
to which it belongs is there behind. 

Every act rewards itself, or in other words integrates itself, in a 
twofold manner: first in the thing, or in real nature; and secondly 
in the circumstance, or in apparent nature. Men call the circum- 
stance the retribution. The casual retribution is in the thing and is 
seen by the soul. The retribution in the circumstance is seen by the 
understanding; it is inseparable from the thing, but is often spread 
over a long time and so does not become distinct until after many 
years. The specific stripes may follow late after the offence, but they 
follow because they accompany it. Crime and punishment grow out 
of one stem. Punishment is a fruit that unsuspected ripens within the 
flower of the pleasure which concealed it. Cause and ef?ect, means 
and ends, seed and fruit, cannot be severed; for the effect already 
blooms in the cause, the end preexists in the means, the fruit in the 
seed. 

Whilst thus the world will be whole and refuses to be disparted, 
we seek to act partially, to sunder, to appropriate; for example, — to 
gratify the senses we sever the pleasure of the senses from the needs 
of the character. The ingenuity of man has been dedicated to the 
solution of one problem, — how to detach the sensual sweet, the 
sensual strong, the sensual bright, etc., from the moral sweet, the 
moral deep, the moral fair; that is, again, to contrive to cut clean off 
this upper surface so thin as to leave it bottomless; to get a one end, 
without an other end. The soul says, Eat; the body would feast. The 
soul says, The man and woman shall be one Resh and one soul; the 



COMPENSATION 91 

body would join the flesh only. The soul says. Have dominion over 
all things to the ends of virtue; the body would have the power over 
things to its own ends. 

The soul strives amain to live and work through all things. It 
would be the only fact. All things shall be added unto it, — power, 
pleasure, knowledge, beauty. The particular man aims to be some- 
body; to set up for himself; to truck and higgle for a private good; 
and, in particulars, to ride that he may ride; to dress that he may be 
dressed; to eat that he may eat; and to govern, that he may be seen. 
Men seek to be great; they would have offices, wealth, power, and 
fame. They think that to be great is to get only one side of natiue, — 
the sweet, without the other side, — the bitter. 

Steadily is this dividing and detaching counteracted. Up to this 
day it must be owned no projector has had the smallest success. The 
parted water reunites behind our hand. Pleasure is taken out of 
pleasant things, profit out of profitable things, power out of strong 
things, the moment we seek to separate them from the whole. We 
can no more halve things and get the sensual good, by itself, than we 
can get an inside that shall have no outside, or a light without a 
shadow. "Drive out nature with a fork, she comes running back." 

Life invests itself with inevitable conditions, which the unwise seek 
to dodge, which one and another brags that he does not know, brags 
that they do not touch him; — but the brag is on his lips, the condi- 
tions are in his soul. If he escapes them in one part they attack 
him in another more vital part. If he has escaped them in form and 
in the appearance, it is because he has resisted his life and fled from 
himself, and the retribution is so much death. So signal is the 
failure of all attempts to make this separation of the good from the 
tax, that the exp)eriment would not be tried, — since to try it is to be 
mad, — but for the circumstance that when the disease began in the 
will, of rebellion and separation, the intellect is at once infected, so 
that the man ceases to see God whole in each object, but is able to 
see the sensual allurement of an object and not see the sensual hurt; 
he sees the mermaid's head but not the dragon's tail, and thinks 
he can cut off that which he would have from that which he would 
not have. "How secret art thou who dwellest in the highest heavens 



92 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

in silence, O thou only great God, sprinkling with an unwearied 
providence certain penal blindnesses upon such as have unbridled 
desires!"* 

The human soul is true to these facts in the painting of fable, of 
history, of law, of proverbs, of conversation. It finds a tongue in 
literature unawares. Thus the Greeks called Jupiter, Supreme Mind; 
but having traditionally ascribed to him many base actions, they 
involuntarily made amends to Reason by tying up the hands of so 
bad a god. He is made as helpless as a king of England. Prometheus 
knows ope secret which Jove must bargain for; Minerva, another. 
He cannot get his own thunders; Minerva keeps the key of them: 

Of all the gods, I only know the keys 

That op)e the solid doors within whose vaults 

His thunders sleep. 

A plain confession of the in-working of the All and of its moral aim. 
The Indian mythology ends in the same ethics; and indeed it would 
seem impossible for any fable to be invented and get any currency 
which was not moral. Aurora forgot to ask youth for her lover, 
and though so Tithonus is immortal, he is old. Achilles is not 
quite invulnerable; for Thetis held him by the heel when she dipped 
him in the Styx and the sacred waters did not wash that part. Sieg- 
fried, in the Nibelungen, is not quite immortal, for a leaf fell on his 
back whilst he was bathing in the Dragon's blood, and that spot 
which it covered is mortal. And so it always is. There is a crack in 
every thing God has made. Always it would seem there is this 
vindictive circumstance stealing in at unawares even into the wild 
poesy in which the human fancy attempted to make bold holiday 
and to shake itself free of the old laws, — this back-stroke, this kick 
of the gun, certifying that the law is fatal; that in nature nothing 
can be given, all things are sold. 

This is that ancient doctrine of Nemesis, who keeps watch in the 
Universe and lets no offence go unchastised. The Furies they said 
are attendants on Justice, and if the sun in heaven should transgress 
his path they would punish him. The poets related that stone walls 
and iron swords and leathern thongs had an occult sympathy with 

' St. Augustine, Confessions, B. I. 



COMPENSATION 93 

the wrongs of their owners; that the belt which Ajax gave Hector 
dragged the Trojan hero over the field at the wheels of the car of 
Achilles, and the sword which Hector gave Ajax was that on whose 
point Ajax fell. They recorded that when the Thasians erected a 
statue to Theogenes, a victor in the games, one of his rivals went 
to it by night and endeavored to throw it down by repeated blows, 
until at last he moved it from its pedestal and was crushed to death 
beneath its fall. 

This voice of fable has in it somewhat divine. It came from 
thought above the will of the writer. That is the best part of each 
writer which has nothing private in it; that is the best part of each 
which he does not know; that which flowed out of his constitution 
and not from his too active invention; that which in the study of a 
single artist you might not easily find, but in the study of many 
you would abstract as the spirit of them all. Phidias it is not, but 
the work of man in that early Hellenic world that I would know. 
The name and circumstance of Phidias, however convenient for 
history, embarrasses when we come to the highest criticism. We are 
to see that which man was tending to do in a given period, and was 
hindered, or, if you will, modified in doing, by the interfering 
volitions of Phidias, of Dante, of Shakspeare, the organ whereby 
man at the moment wrought. 

Still more striking is the expression of this fact in the proverbs 
of all nations, which are always the literature of Reason, or the 
statements of an absolute truth without qualifications. Proverbs, 
like the sacred books of each nation, are the sanctuary of the In- 
tuitions. That which the droning world, chained to appearances, 
will not allow the realist to say in his own words, it will suffer him 
to say in proverbs without contradiction. And this law of laws, 
which the pulpit, the senate and the college deny, is hourly preached 
in all markets and all languages by flights of proverbs, whose teach- 
ing is as true and as omnipresent as that of birds and flies. 

All things are double, one against another. — Tit for tat; an eye for 
an eye; a tooth for a tooth; blood for blood; measure for measure; 
love for love. — Give, and it shall be given you. — He that watereth 
shall be watered himself. — ^What will you have? quoth God; pay for 
it and take it. — Nothing venture, nothing have. — Thou shalt be paid 



94 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

exactly for what thou hast done, no more, no less. — Who doth not 
work shall not eat. — Harm watch, harm catch. — Curses always 
recoil on the head of him who imprecates them. — If you put a chain 
around the neck of a slave, the other end fastens itself around your 
own. — Bad counsel confounds the adviser. — The devil is an ass. 

It is thus written, because it is thus in life. Our action is over- 
mastered and characterized above our will by the law of nature. We 
aim at a petty end quite aside from the public good, but our act 
arranges itself by irresistible magnetism in a line with the poles of 
the world. 

A man cannot speak but he judges himself. With his will or 
against his will he draws his portrait to the eye of his companions 
by every word. Every opinion reacts on him who utters it. It is a 
thread-ball thrown at a mark, but the other end remains in the 
thrower's bag. Or, rather, it is a harpoon thrown at the whale, un- 
winding, as it flies, a coil of cord in the boat, and, if the harpoon 
is not good, or not well thrown, it will go nigh to cut the steersman 
in twain or to sink the boat. 

You cannot do wrong without suffering wrong. "No man had 
ever a point of pride that was not injurious to him," said Burke. 
The exclusive in fashionable life does not see that he excludes him- 
self from enjoyment, in the attempt to appropriate it. The exdusion- 
ist in religion does not see that he shuts the door of heaven on 
himself, in striving to shut out others. Treat men as pawns and 
nine-pins and you shall suffer as well as they. If you leave out their 
heart, you shall lose your own. The senses would make things of 
all persons; of women, of children, of the poor. The vulgar proverb, 
"I will get it from his purse or get it from his skin," is sound phi- 
losophy. 

All infractions of love and equity in our social relations are speed- 
ily punished. They are punished by Fear. Whilst I stand in simple 
relations to my fellow-man, I have no displeasure in meeting him. 
We meet as water meets water, or as two currents of air mix, with 
perfect diffusion and interpenetration of nature. But as soon as 
there is any departure from simplicity and attempt at halfness, or 
good for me that is not good for him, my neighbor feels the wrong; 
he shrinks from me as far as I have shrunk from him; his eyes no 



COMPENSATION 95 

longer seek mine; there is war between us; there is hate in him 
and fear in me. 

All the old abuses in society, the great and universal and the 
petty and particular, all unjust accumulations of property and power, 
are avenged in the same manner. Fear is an instructor of great 
sagacity and the herald of all revolutions. One thing he always 
teaches, that there is rottenness where he appears. He is a carrion 
crow, and though you see not well what he hovers for, there is 
death somewhere. Our property is timid, our laws are timid, our 
cultivated classes are timid. Fear for ages has boded and mowed 
and gibbered over government and property. That obscene bird 
is not there for nothing. He indicates great wrongs which must 
be revised. 

Of the like nature is that expectation of change which instantly 
follows the suspension of our voluntary activity. The terror of 
cloudless noon, the emerald of Polycrates, the awe of prosperity, 
the instinct which leads every generous soul to impose on itself 
tasks of a noble asceticism and vicarious virtue, are the tremblings 
of the balance of justice through the heart and mind of man. 

Experienced men of the world know very well that it is best to 
pay scot and lot as they go along, and that a man often pays dear 
for a small frugality. The borrower runs in his own debt. Has a 
man gained any thing who has received a hundred favors and ren- 
dered none? Has he gained by borrowing, through indolence or 
cunning, his neighbor's wares, or horses, or money? There arises 
on the deed the instant acknowledgment of benefit on the one part 
and of debt on the other; that is, of superiority and inferiority. The 
transaction remains in the memory of himself and his neighbor; and 
every new transaction alters according to its nature their relation 
to each other. He may soon come to see that he had better have 
broken his own bones than to have ridden in his neighbor's coach, 
and that "the highest price he can pay for a thing is to ask for it." 

A wise man will extend this lesson to all parts of life, and know 
that it is always the part of prudence to face every claimant and 
pay every just demand on your time, your talents, or your heart. 
Always pay; for first or last you must pay your entire debt. Persons 
and events may stand for a time between you and justice, but it is 



g6 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

only a postponement. You must pay at last your own debt. If you 
are wise you will dread a prosperity which only loads you with 
more. Benefit is the end of nature. But for every benefit which you 
receive, a tax is levied. He is great who confers the most benefits. 
He is base, — and that is the one base thing in the universe, — to re- 
ceive favors and render none. In the order of nature we cannot 
render benefits to those from whom we receive them, or only seldom. 
But the benefit we receive must be rendered again, line for line, deed 
for deed, cent for cent, to somebody. Beware of too much good 
staying in your hand. It will fast corrupt and worm worms. Pay 
it away quickly in some sort. 

Labor is watched over by the same pitiless laws. Cheapest, says 
the prudent, is the dearest labor. What we buy in a broom, a mat, 
a wagon, a knife, is some application of good sense to a common 
want. It is best to pay in your land a skilful gardener, or to buy 
good sense applied to gardening; in your sailor, good sense applied 
to navigation; in the house, good sense applied to cooking, sewing, 
serving; in your agent, good sense applied to accounts and affairs. 
So do you multiply your presence, or spread yourself throughout 
your estate. But because of the dual constitution of things, in labor 
as in life there can be no cheating. The thief steals from himself. 
The swindler swindles himself. For the real price of labor is knowl- 
edge and virtue, whereof wealth and credit are signs. These signs, 
like paper money, may be counterfeited or stolen, but that which 
they represent, namely, knowledge and virtue, cannot be counter- 
feited or stolen. These ends of labor cannot be answered but by real 
exertions of the mind; and in obedience to pure motives. The 
cheat, the defaulter, the gambler, cannot extort the benefit, cannot 
extort the knowledge of material and moral nature which his honest 
care and pains yield to the operative. The law of nature is, Do the 
thing, and you shall have the power; but they who do not the thing 
have not the power. 

Human labor, through all its forms, from the sharpening of a 
stake to the construction of a city or an epic, is one immense illus- 
tration of the perfect compensation of the universe. Everywhere 
and always this law is sublime. The absolute balance of Give and 
Take, the doctrine that every thing has its price, and if that price is 



COMPENSATION 97 

not paid, not that thing but something else is obtained, and that 
it is impossible to get anything without its price, is not less sublime 
in the columns of a ledger than in the budgets of states, in the laws 
of light and darkness, in all the action and reaction of nature. I 
cannot doubt that the high laws which each man sees ever implicated 
in those processes with which he is conversant, the stern ethics which 
sparkle on his chisel-edge, which are measured out by his plumb 
and foot-rule, which stand as manifest in the footing of the shop-bill 
as in the history of a state, — do recommend to him his trade, and 
though seldom named, exalt his business to his imagination. 

The league between virtue and nature engages all things to 
assume a hostile front to vice. The beautiful laws and substances 
of the world persecute and whip the traitor. He finds that things 
are arranged for truth and benefit, but there is no den in the wide 
world to hide a rogue. Commit a crime, and the earth is made 
of glass. There is no such thing as concealment. Commit a crime, 
and it seems as if a coat of snow fell on the ground, such as reveals 
in the woods the track of every partridge and fox and squirrel and 
mole. You cannot recall the spoken word, you cannot wip)e out the 
foot-track, you cannot draw up the ladder, so as to leave no inlet 
or clew. Always some damning circumstance transpires. The laws 
and substances of nature, water, snow, wind, gravitation, become 
penalties to the thief. 

On the other hand the law holds with equal sureness for all right 
action. Love, and you shall be loved. All love is mathematically 
just, as much as the two sides of an algebraic equation. The good 
man has absolute good, which like fire turns every thing to its own 
nature, so that you cannot do him any harm; but as the royal armies 
sent against NafX)leon, when he approached cast down their colors 
and from enemies became friends, so do disasters of all kinds, as 
sickness, offence, poverty, prove benefactors. 

Winds blow and waters roll 
Strength to the brave and power and deity. 
Yet in themselves are nothing. 

The good are befriended even by weakness and defect. As no 
man had ever a point of pride that was not injurious to him, so no 



^8 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

man had ever a defect that was not somewhere made useful to him. 
The stag in the fable admired his horns and blamed his feet, but 
when the hunter came, his feet saved him, and afterwards, caught 
in the thicket, his horns destroyed him. Every man in his lifetime 
needs to thank his faults. As no man thoroughly understands a 
truth until first he has contended against it, so no man has a 
thorough acquaintance with the hindrances or talents of men until 
he has suffered from the one and seen the triumph of the other 
over his own want of the same. Has he a defect of temper that 
unfits him to live in society? Thereby he is driven to entertain 
himself alone and acquire habits of self-help; and thus, like the 
wounded oyster, he mends his shell with (jearl. 

Our strength grows out of our weakness. Not until we are pricked 
and stung and sorely shot at, awakens the indignation which arms 
itself with secret forces. A great man is always willing to be little. 
Whilst he sits on the cushion of advantages, he goes to sleep. When 
he is pushed, tormented, defeated, he has a chance to learn some- 
thing; he has been put on his wits, on his manhood; he has gained 
facts; learns his ignorance; is cured of the insanity of conceit; has 
got moderation and real skill. The wise man always throws himself 
on the side of his assailants. It is more his interest than it is theirs 
to find his weak p)oint. The wound cicatrizes and falls off from him 
like a dead skin and when they would triumph, lo! he has passed on 
invulnerable. Blame is safer than praise. I hate to be defended in 
a newspaper. As long as all that is said is said against me, I feel a 
certain assurance of success. But as soon as honied words of praise 
are sp)oken for me I feel as one that lies unprotected before his 
enemies. In general, every evil to which we do not succumb is a 
benefaaor. As the Sandwich Islander believes that the strength and 
valor of the enemy he kills passes into himself, so we gain the 
strength of the temptation we resist. 

The same guards which protect us from disaster, defect and en- 
mity, defend us, if we will, from selfishness and fraud. Bolts and 
bars are not the best of our institutions, nor is shrewdness in trade 
a mark of wisdom. Men suffer all their life long under the foolish 
superstition that they can be cheated. But it is as impossible for a 
man to be cheated by any one but himself, as for a thing to be and 



COMPENSATION 99 

not to be at the same time. There is a third silent party to all our 
bargains. The nature and soul of things takes on itself the guaranty 
of the fulfilment of every contract, so that honest service cannot 
come to loss. If you serve an ungrateful master, serve him the more. 
Put God in your debt. Every stroke shall be repaid. The longer 
the payment is withholden, the better for you; for compound interest 
on compound interest is the rate and usage of this exchequer. 

The history of persecution is a history of endeavors to cheat nature, 
to make water run up hill, to twist a rope of sand. It makes no 
difference whether the actors be many or one, a tyrant or a mob. 
A mob is a society of bodies voluntarily bereaving themselves of 
reason and traversing its work. The mob is man voluntarily descend- 
ing to the nature of the beast. Its fit hour of activity is night. Its 
actions are insane, like its whole constitution. It persecutes a prin- 
ciple; it would whip a right; it would tar and feather justice, by 
inflicting fire and outrage upon the houses and persons of those who 
have these. It resembles the prank of boys, who run with fire-engines 
to put out the ruddy aurora streaming to the stars. The inviolate 
spirit turns their spite against the wrongdoers. The martyr cannot 
be dishonored. Every lash inflicted is a tongue of fame; every prison 
a more illustrious abode; every burned book or house enlightens 
the world; every suppressed or expunged word reverberates through 
the earth from side to side. The minds of men are at last aroused; 
reason looks out and justifies her own and malice finds all her 
work in vain. It is the whipper who is whipped and the tyrant 
who is undone. 

Thus do all things preach the indiflerency of circumstances. The 
man is all. Every thing has two sides, a good and an evil. Every 
advantage has its tax. I learn to be content. But the doctrine of 
compensation is not the doctrine of indiflerency. The thoughtless 
say, on hearing these representations, — What boots it to do well.' 
there is one event to good and evil; if I gain any good I must pay 
for it; if I lose any good I gain some other; all actions are indifferent. 

There is a deeper fact in the soul than compensation, to wit, its 
own nature. The soul is not a compensation, but a life. The soul is. 
Under all this running sea of circumstance, whose waters ebb and 



lOO RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

flow with perfect balance, lies the aboriginal abyss of real Being. 
Existence, or God, is not a relation or a part, but the whole. Being 
is the vast affirmative, excluding negation, self-balanced, and swal- 
lowing up all relations, parts and times within itself. Nature, 
truth, virtue, are the influx from thence. Vice is the absence or 
departure of the same. Nothing, Falsehood, may indeed stand as 
the great Night or shade on which as a background the living 
universe paints itself forth; but no fact is begotten by it; it cannot 
work, for it is not. It cannot work any good; it cannot work any 
harm. It is harm inasmuch as it is worse not to be than to be. 

We feel defrauded of the retribution due to evil acts, because the 
criminal adheres to his vice and contumacy and does not come to 
a crisis or judgment anywhere in visible nature. There is no stun- 
ning confutation of his nonsense before men and angels. Has he 
therefore outwitted the law? Inasmuch as he carries the malignity 
and the lie with him he so far decreases from nature. In some man- 
ner there will be a demonstration of the wrong to the understanding 
also; but, should we not see it, this deadly deduction makes square 
the eternal account. 

Neither can it be said, on the other hand, that the gain of recti- 
tude must be bought by any loss. There is no penalty to virtue; no 
f)enalty to wisdom; they are proper additions of being. In a virtuous 
action I properly am; in a virtuous act I add to the world; I plant 
into deserts conquered from Chaos and Nothing and see the dark- 
ness receding on the limits of the horizon. There can be no excess 
to love, none to knowledge, none to beauty, when these attributes 
are considered in the purest sense. The soul refuses all limits. It 
affirms in man always an Optimism, never a Pessimism. 

His life is a progress, and not a station. His instinct is trust. Our 
instinct uses "more" and "less" in application to man, always of the 
presence of the soul, and not of its absence; the brave man is greater 
than the coward; the true, the benevolent, the wise, is more a man 
and not less, than the fool and knave. There is therefore no tax 
on the good of virtue, for that is the incoming of God himself, or 
absolute existence, without any comparative. All external good has 
its tax, and if it came without desert or sweat, has no root in me, and 
the next wind will blow it away. But all the good of nature is the 



COMPENSATION 10 1 

soul's, and may be had if paid for in nature's lawful coin, that is, 
by labor which the heart and the head allow. I no longer wish to 
meet a good I do not earn, for example to find a pot of buried gold, 
knowing that it brings with it new responsibility. I do not wish 
more external goods, — neither possessions, nor honors, nor powers, 
nor persons. The gain is apparent; the tax is certain. But there 
is no tax on the knowledge that the compensation exists and that it 
is not desirable to dig up treasure. Herein I rejoice with a serene 
eternal peace. I contract the boundaries of possible mischief. I learn 
the wisdom of St. Bernard, "Nothing can work me damage except 
myself; the harm that I sustain I carry about with me, and never 
am a real sufTerer but by my own fault." 

In the nature of the soul is the compensation for the inequalities 
of condition. The radical tragedy of nature seems to be the distinc- 
tion of More and Less. How can Less not feel the pain; how not feel 
indignation or malevolence towards More ? Look at those who have 
less faculty, and one feels sad and knows not well what to make 
of it. Almost he shuns their eye; he fears they will upbraid God. 
What should they do? It seems a great injustice. But see the facts 
nearly and these mountainous inequalities vanish. Love reduces 
them as the sun melts the iceberg in the sea. The heart and soul 
of all men being one, this bitterness of His and Mine ceases. His 
is mine. I am my brother and my brother is me. If I feel over- 
shadowed and outdone by great neighbors, I can get love; I can 
still receive; and he that loveth maketh his own the grandeur he 
loves. Thereby I make the discovery that my brother is my guardian, 
acting for me with the friendliest designs, and the estate I so ad- 
mired and envied is my own. It is the eternal nature of the soul 
to appropriate and make all things its own. Jesus and Shakspeare 
are fragments of the soul, and by love I conquer and incorporate 
them in my own conscious domain. His virtue, — is not that mine? 
His wit, — if it cannot be made mine, it is not wit. 

Such also is the natural history of calamity. The changes which 
break up at short intervals the prosperity of men are advertisements 
of a nature whose law is growth. Evermore it is the order of nature 
to grow, and every soul is by this intrinsic necessity quitting its 
whole system of things, its friends and home and laws and faith. 



I02 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

as the shellfish crawls out of its beautiful but stony case, because it 
no longer admits of its growth, and slowly forms a new house. In 
proportion to the vigor of the individual these revolutions are fre- 
quent, until in some happier mind they are incessant and all worldly 
relations hang very loosely about him, becoming as it were a trans- 
parent fluid membrane through which the living form is always 
seen, and not, as in most men, an indurated heterogeneous fabric 
of many dates and of no settled character, in which the man is 
imprisoned. Then there can be enlargement, and the man of to-day 
scarcely recognizes the man of yesterday. And such should be the 
outward biography of man in time, a putting off of dead circum- 
stances day by day, as he renews his raiment day by day. But to 
us, in our lapsed estate, resting, not advancing, resisting, not co- 
operating with the divine expansion, this growth comes by shocks. 

We cannot part with our friends. We cannot let our angels go. 
We do not see that they only go out that archangels may come in. 
We are idolators of the old. We do not believe in the riches of the 
soul, in its proper eternity and omnipresence. We do not believe 
there is any force in to<iay to rival or re-create that beautiful yester- 
day. We linger in the ruins of the old tent where once we had 
bread and shelter and organs, nor believe that the spirit can feed, 
cover, and nerve us again. We cannot again find aught so dear, 
so sweet, so graceful. But we sit and weep in vain. The voice of 
the Almighty saith, "Up and onward forevermore!" We cannot 
stay amid the ruins. Neither will we rely on the New; and so we 
walk ever with reverted eyes, like those monsters, who look back- 
wards. 

And yet the compensations of calamity are made apparent to the 
understanding also, after long intervals of time. A fever, a mutila- 
tion, a cruel disappointment, a loss of wealth, a loss of friends, seems 
at the moment unpaid loss, and unpayable. But the sure years reveal 
the deep remedial force that underlies all facts. The death of a 
dear friend, wife, brother, lover, which seemed nothing but priva- 
tion, somewhat later assumes the aspect of a guide or genius; for it 
commonly operates revolutions in our way of life, terminates an 
epoch of infancy or of youth which was waiting to be closed, breaks 
up a wonted occupation, or a household, or style of Uving, and allows 



COMPENSATION IO3 

the formation of new ones more friendly to the growth of character. 
It permits or constrains the formation of new acquaintances and the 
reception of new influences that prove of the first importance to 
the next years; and the man or woman who would have remained 
a sunny garden-flower, with no room for its roots and too much 
sunshine for its head, by the falling of the walls and the neglect 
of the gardener is made the banian of the forest, yielding shade and 
fruit to wide neighborhoods of men. 



FRIENDSHIP 

(.841) 

WE have a great deal more kindness than is ever spoken. 
Maugre all the selfishness that chills like east winds the 
world, the whole human family is bathed with an element 
of love like a fine ether. How many persons we meet in houses, 
whom we scarcely speak to, whom yet we honor, and who honor us! 
How many we see in the street, or sit with in church, whom, though 
silendy, we warmly rejoice to be with! Read the language of these 
wandering eye-beams. The heart knoweth. 

The effect of the indulgence of this human affection is a certain 
cordial exhilaration. In poetry and in common speech the emotions 
of benevolence and complacency which are felt towards others are 
likened to the material efTects of fire; so swift, or much more swift, 
more active, more cheering, are these fine inward irradiations. From 
the highest degree of passionate love to the lowest degree of good 
will, they make the sweetness of life. 

Our intellectual and active powers increase with our affection. 
The scholar sits down to write, and all his years of meditation do 
not furnish him with one good thought or happy expression; but it 
is necessary to write a letter to a friend, — and forthwith troops of 
gentle thoughts invest themselves, on every hand, with chosen words. 
See, in any house where virtue and self-respect abide, the palpita- 
tion which the approach of a stranger causes. A commended stran- 
ger is expected and announced, and an uneasiness betwixt pleasure 
and pain invades all the hearts of a household. His arrival almost 
brings fear to the good hearts that would welcome him. The house 
is dusted, all things fly into their places, the old coat is exchanged 
for the new, and they must get up a dinner if they can. Of a com- 
mended stranger, only the good repwrt is told by others, only the 
good and new is heard by us. He stands to us for humanity. He 
is what we wish. Having Imagined and invested him, we ask how 

105 



I06 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

we should stand related in conversation and action with such a 
man, and are uneasy with fear. The same idea exalts conversation 
with him. We talk better than we are wont. We have the nimblest 
fancy, a richer memory, and our dumb devil has taken leave for the 
time. For long hours we can continue a series of sincere, graceful, 
rich communications, drawn from the oldest, secretest experience, 
so that they who sit by, of our own kinsfolk and acquaintance, 
shall feel a lively surprise at our unusual powers. But as soon as the 
stranger begins to intrude his partialities, his definitions, his defects 
into the conversation, it is all over. He has heard the first, the last 
and best he will ever hear from us. He is no stranger now. Vul- 
garity, ignorance, misapprehension are old acquaintances. Now, 
when he comes, he may get the order, the dress and the dinner, — 
but the throbbing of the heart and the communications of the 
soul, no more. 

Pleasant are these jets of affection which make a young world for 
me again. Delicious is a just and firm encounter of two, in a 
thought, in a feeling. How beautiful, on their approach to this 
beating heart, the steps and forms of the gifted and the true! The 
moment we indulge our affections, the earth is metamorphosed: 
there is no winter and no night: all tragedies, all ennuis vanish, — 
all duties even; nothing fills the proceeding eternity but the forms 
all radiant of beloved persons. Let the soul be assured that some- 
where in the universe it should rejoin its friend, and it would be 
content and cheerful alone for a thousand years. 

I awoke this morning with devout thanksgiving for my friends, 
the old and the new. Shall I not call God the Beautiful, who daily 
showeth himself so to me in his gifts? I chide society, I embrace 
solitude, and yet I am not so ungrateful as not to see the wise, the 
lovely and the noble-minded, as from time to time they pass my gate. 
Who hears me, who understands me, becomes mine, — a possession 
for all time. Nor is nature so poor but she gives me this joy several 
times, and thus we weave social threads of our own, a new web of 
relations: and, as many thoughts in succession substantiate them- 
selves, we shall by-and-by stand in a new world of our own creation, 
and no longer strangers and pilgrims in a traditionary globe. My 
friends have come to me unsought. The great God gave them to 



FRIENDSHIP 107 

me. By oldest right, by the divine affinity of virtue with itself, I 
find them, or rather not I, but the Deity in me and in them, both 
deride and cancel the thick walls of individual character, relation, 
age, sex, circumstance, at which he usually connives, and now makes 
many one. High thanks I owe you, excellent lovers, who carry out 
the world for me to new and noble depths, and enlarge the meaning 
of all my thoughts. These are not stark and stiffened persons, but 
the new-born poetry of God, — poetry without stop, — hymn, ode and 
epic, poetry still flowing and not yet caked in dead books with an- 
notation and grammar, but Apollo and the Muses chanting still. 
Will these too separate themselves from me again, or some of them ? 
I know not, but I fear it not; for my relation to them is so pure that 
we hold by simple affinity, and the Genius of my life being thus 
social, the same affinity will exert its energy on whomsoever is as 
noble as these men and women, wherever I may be. 

I confess to an extreme tenderness of nature on this point. It is 
almost dangerous to me to "crush the sweet prison of misused wine" 
of the af?ections. A new person is to me always a great event and 
hinders me from sleep. I have had such fine fancies lately about 
two or three persons which have given me delicious hours; but the 
joy ends in the day; it yields no fruit. Thought is not born of it; 
my action is very little modified. I must feel pride in my friend's 
accomplishments as if they were mine, — wild, delicate, throbbing 
property in his virtues. I feel as warmly when he is praised, as the 
lover when he hears applause of his engaged maiden. We over- 
estimate the conscience of our friend. His goodness seems better 
than our goodness, his nature finer, his temptations less. Every thing 
that is his, his name, his form, his dress, books and instrimients, 
fancy enhances. Our own thought sounds new and larger from his 
mouth. 

Yet the systole and diastole of the heart are not without their 
analogy in the ebb and flow of love. Friendship, like the immortality 
of the soul, is too good to be believed. The lover, beholding his 
maiden, half knows that she is not verily that which he worships; 
and in the golden hour of friendship we are surprised with shades 
of suspicion and unbehef. We doubt that we bestow on our hero 
the virtues in which he shines, and afterwards worship the form 



I08 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

to which we have ascribed this divine inhabitation. In strictness, 
the soul does not respect men as it respects itself. In strict science 
all persons underlie the same condition of an infinite remoteness. 
Shall we fear to cool our love by facing the fact, by mining for 
the metaphysical foundation of this Elysian temple? Shall I not be as 
real as the things I see? If I am, I shall not fear to know them 
for what they are. Their essence is not less beautiful than their 
apf)earance, though it needs finer organs for its apprehension. The 
root of the plant is not unsightly to science, though for chaplets and 
festoons we cut the stem short. And I must hazard the production 
of the bald fact amidst these pleasing reveries, though it should prove 
an Egyptian skull at our banquet. A man who stands united with 
his thought conceives magnificently of himself. He is conscious of 
a universal success, even though bought by uniform particular fail- 
ures. No advantages, no powers, no gold or force, can be any match 
for him. I cannot choose but rely on my own fxjverty more than 
on your wealth. I cannot make your consciousness tantamount to 
mine. Only the star dazzles; the planet has a faint, moon-like ray. 
I hear what you say of the admirable parts and tried temper of the 
party you praise, but I see well that, for all his purple cloaks, I shall 
not like him, unless he is at last a poor Greek like me. I cannot 
deny it, O friend, that the vast shadow of the Phenomenal includes 
thee also in its pied and painted immensity, — thee also, compared 
with whom all else is shadow. Thou art not Being, as Truth is, as 
Justice is, — thou art not my soul, but a picture and effigy of that. 
Thou hast come to me lately, and already thou art seizing thy hat 
and cloak. Is it not that the soul puts forth friends as the tree puts 
forth leaves, and presently, by the germination of new buds, extrudes 
the old leaf? The law of nature is alternation forevermore. Each 
electrical state superinduces the opposite. The soul environs itself 
with friends that it may enter into a grander self-acquaintance or 
solitude; and it goes alone for a season that it may exalt its conver- 
sation or society. This method betrays itself along the whole history 
of our personal relations, the instinct of affection revives the hope 
of union with our mates, and the returning sense of insulation re- 
calls us from the chase. Thus every man passes his life in the search 



FRIENDSHIP 109 

after friendship, and if he should record his true sentiment, he might 
write a letter like this to each new candidate for his love. 

Dear Friend: If I was sure of thee, sure of thy capacity, sure to 
match my mood with thine, I should never think again of trifles 
in relation to thy comings and goings. I am not very wise: my 
moods are quite attainable: and I respect thy genius: it is to me as 
yet unfathomed; yet dare I not presume in thee a periect intelligence 
of me, and so thou art to me a delicious torment. Thine ever, or 
never. 

Yet these uneasy pleasures and fine pains are for curiosity and 
not for life. They are not to be indulged. This is to weave cobweb, 
and not cloth. Our friendships hurry to short and poor conclusions, 
because we have made them a texture of wine and dreams, instead 
of the tough fibre of the human heart. The laws of friendship are 
great, austere and eternal, of one web with the laws of nature and 
of morals. But we have aimed at a swift and petty benefit, to suck 
a sudden sweetness. We snatch at the slowest fruit in the whole 
garden of God, which many summers and many winters must 
ripen. We seek our friend not sacredly, but with an adulterate 
passion which would appropriate him to ourselves. In vain. We 
are armed all over with subtle antagonisms, which, as soon as we 
meet, begin to play, and translate all poetry into stale prose. Almost 
all people descend to meet. All association must be a compromise, 
and, what is worst, the very flower and aroma of the flower of each 
of the beautiful natures disappears as they approach each other. 
What a perpetual disappointment is actual society, even of the 
virtuous and gifted! After interviews have been compassed with 
long foresight we must be tormented presently by baffled blows, 
by sudden, unseasonable apathies, by epilepsies of wit and of animal 
spirits, in the hey-dey of friendship and thought. Our faculties do 
not play us true, and both parties are relieved by solitude. 

I ought to be equal to every relation. It makes no difference 
how many friends I have and what content I can find in con- 
versing with each, if there be one to whom I am not equal. If I 



no RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

have shrunk unequal from one contest, instantly the joy I find in 
all the rest becomes mean and cowardly. I should hate myself, if 
then I made my other friends my asylum. 

The valiant warrior famoused for fight. 
After a hundred victories, once foiled, 
Is from the book of honor razed quite 
And all the rest forgot for which he toiled. 

Our impatience is thus sharply rebuked. Bashfulness and apathy 
are a tough husk in which a delicate organization is protected from 
premature ripening. It would be lost if it knew itself before any 
of the best souls were yet ripe enough to know and own it. Respect 
the naturlangsaml^dt which hardens the ruby in a million years, 
and works in duration in which Alps and Andes come and go as 
rainbows. The good spirit of our life has no heaven which is the 
price of rashness. Love, which is the essence of God, is not for 
levity, but for the total worth of man. Let us not have this childish 
luxury in our regards; but the austerest worth; let us approach 
our friend with an audacious trust in the truth of his heart, in the 
breadth, impossible to be overturned, of his foundations. 

The attractions of this subject are not to be resisted, and I leave, 
for the time, all account of subordinate social benefit, to speak of 
that select and sacred relation which is a kind of absolute, and 
which even leaves the language of love suspicious and common, 
so much is this purer, and nothing is so much divine. 

I do not wish to treat friendships daintily, but with roughest 
courage. When they are real, they are not glass threads or frost- 
work, but the solidest thing we know. For now, after so many 
ages of experience, what do we know of nature or of ourselves? 
Not one step has man taken toward the solution of the problem of 
his destiny. In one condemnation of folly stand the whole universe 
of men. But the sweet sincerity of joy and peace which I draw from 
this alliance with my brother's soul is the nut itself whereof all 
nature and all thought is but the husk and shell. Happy is the 
house that shelters a friend! It might well be built, Uke a festal 
bower or arch, to entertain him a single day. Happier, if he know 
the solemnity of that relation and honor its law! It is no idle bond. 



FRIENDSHIP 1 1 1 

no holiday engagement. He who offers himself a candidate for that 
covenant comes up, like an Olympian, to the great games where 
the first-born of the world are the competitors. He proposes him- 
self for contest where Time, Want, Danger, are in the lists, and he 
alone is victor who has truth enough in his constitution to preserve 
the delicacy of his beauty from the wear and tear of all these. The 
gifts of fortune may be present or absent, but all the hap in that 
contest depends on intrinsic nobleness and the contempt of trifles. 
There are two elements that go to the composition of friendship, 
each so sovereign that I can detect no superiority in either, no reason 
why either should be first named. One is Truth. A friend is a 
person with whom I may be sincere. Before him I may think aloud. 
I am arrived at last in the presence of a man so real and equal that 
I may drop even those most undermost garments of dissimulation, 
courtesy, and second thought, which men never put off, and may 
deal with him with the simplicity and wholeness with which one 
chemical atom meets another. Sincerity is the luxury allowed, like 
diadems and authority, only to the highest rank, that being per- 
mitted to speak truth, as having none above it to court or conform 
unto. Every man alone is sincere. At the entrance of a second per- 
son, hypocrisy begins. We parry and fend the approach of our 
fellow man by compliments, by gossip, by amusements, by affairs. 
We cover up our thought from him under a hundred folds. I knew 
a man who under a certain religious frenzy cast off this drapery, 
and omitting all compliment and commonplace, spoke to the con- 
science of every jierson he encountered, and that with great insight 
and beauty. At first he was resisted, and all men agreed he was 
mad. But persisting as indeed he could not help doing for some 
time in this course, he attained to the advantage of bringing every 
man of his acquaintance into true relations with him. No man 
would think of speaking falsely with him, or of putting him off 
with any chat of markets or reading-rooms. But every man was 
constrained by so much sincerity to face him, and what love of 
nature, what poetry, what symbol of truth he had, he did certainly 
show him. But to most of us society shows not its face and eye, 
but its side and its back. To stand in true relations with men in a 
false age is worth a fit of insanity, is it not? We can seldom go 



112 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

erect. Almost every man we meet requires some civility, requires 
to be humored; — he has some fame, some talent, some whim of 
religion or philanthropy in his head that is not to be questioned, 
and which spoils all conversation with him. But a friend is a sane 
man who exercises not my ingenuity, but me. My friend gives me 
entertainment without requiring me to stoop, or to lisp, or to mask 
myself. A friend therefore is a sort of paradox in nature. I who 
alone am, I who see nothing in nature whose existence I can affirm 
with equal evidence to my own, behold now the semblance of my 
being, in all its height, variety and curiosity, reiterated in a foreign 
form; so that a friend may well be reckoned the masterpiece of 
nature. 

The other element of friendship is Tenderness. We are holden 
to men by every sort of tie, by blood, by pride, by fear, by hope, by 
lucre, by lust, by hate, by admiration, by every circumstance and 
badge and trifle, but we can scarce believe that so much character 
can subsist in another as to draw us by love. Can another be so 
blessed and we so pure that we can offer him tenderness? When 
a man becomes dear to me I have touched the goal of fortune. I 
find very little written directly to the heart of this matter in books. 
And yet I have one text which I cannot choose but remember. My 
author says, "I offer myself faintly and bluntly to those whose I 
effectually am, and tender myself least to him to whom I am the 
most devoted." I wish that friendship should have feet, as well as 
eyes and eloquence. It must plant itself on the ground, before it 
walks over the moon. I wish it to be a little of a citizen, before it 
is quite a cherub. We chide the citizen because he makes love a 
commodity. It is an exchange of gifts, of useful loans; it is good 
neighborhood; it watches with the sick; it holds the pall at the 
funeral; and quite loses sight of the delicacies and nobility of the 
relation. But though we cannot find the god under this disguise of 
a sutler, yet on the other hand we cannot forgive the poet if he spins 
his thread too fine and does not substantiate his romance by the 
municipal virtues of justice, punctuality, fidelity and pity. I hate 
the prostitution of the name of friendship to signify modish and 
worldly alliances. I much prefer the company of ploughboys and 
tin-pedlars to the silken and perfumed amity which only celebrates 



FRIENDSHIP 113 

its days of encounter by a frivolous display, by rides in a curricle 
and dinners at the best taverns. The end of friendship is a com- 
merce the most strict and homely that can be joined; more strict 
than any of which we have exf)erience. It is for aid and comfort 
through all the relations and passages of life and death. It is fit 
for serene days and graceful gifts and country rambles, but also for 
rough roads and hard fare, shipwreck, poverty and (persecution. It 
keeps company with the sallies of the wit and the trances of religion. 
We are to dignify to each other the daily needs and offices of man's 
life, and embellish it by courage, wisdom and unity. It should never 
fall into something usual and settled, but should be alert and 
inventive and add rhyme and reason to what was drudgery. 

For perfect friendship may be said to require natures so rare and 
costly, so well tempered each and so happily adapted, and withal 
so circumstanced (for even in that particular, a poet says, love de- 
mands that the parties be altogether paired), that very seldom can 
its satisfaction be realized. It cannot subsist in its perfection, say 
some of those who are learned in this warm lore of the heart, 
betwixt more than two. I am not quite so strict in my terms, per- 
haps because I have never known so high a fellowship as others. 
I please my imagination more with a circle of godlike men and 
women variously related to each other and between whom subsists 
a lofty intelligence. But I find this law of one to one peremptory 
for conversation, which is the practice and consummation of friend- 
ship. Do not mix waters too much. The best mix as ill as good 
and bad. You shall have very useful and cheering discourse at 
several times with two several men, but let all three of you come 
together and you shall not have one new and hearty word. Two 
may talk and one may hear, but three cannot take part in a con- 
versation of the most sincere and searching sort. In good company 
there is never such discourse between two, across the table, as takes 
place when you leave them alone. In good company the individuals 
at once merge their egotism into a social soul exactly coextensive 
with the several consciousnesses there present. No partialities of 
friend to friend, no fondnesses of brother to sister, of wife to hus- 
band, are there pertinent, but quite otherwise. Only he may then 
speak who can sail on the common thought of the party, and not 



114 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

poorly limited to his own. Now this convention, which good sense 
demands, destroys the high freedom of great conversation, which 
requires an absolute running of two souls into one. 

No two men but being left alone with each other enter into 
simpler relations. Yet it is affinity that determines which two shall 
converse. Unrelated men give little joy to each other; will never 
suspect the latent powers of each. We talk sometimes of a great 
talent for conversation, as if it were a permanent property in some 
individuals. Conversation is an evanescent relation, — no more. A 
man is reputed to have thought and eloquence; he cannot, for all 
that, say a word to his cousin or his uncle. They accuse his silence 
with as much reason as they would blame the insignificance of a dial 
in the shade. In the sun it will mark the hour. Among those who 
enjoy his thought he will regain his tongue. 

Friendship requires that rare mean betwixt likeness and unlike- 
ness that piques each with the presence of pxjwer and of consent in 
the other party. Let me be alone to the end of the world, rather 
than that my friend should overstep, by a word or a look, his real 
sympathy. I am equally baulked by antagonism and by compliance. 
Let him not cease an instant to be himself. The only joy I have 
in his being mine, is that the not mine is mine. It turns the stomach, 
it blots the daylight; where I looked for a manly furtherance or at 
least a manly resistance, to find a mush of concession. Better be a 
nettle in the side of your friend than his echo. The condition which 
high friendship demands is ability to do without it. To be capable 
that high office requires great and sublime parts. There must be 
very two, before there can be very one. Let it be an alliance of two 
large, formidable natures, mutually beheld, mutually feared, before 
yet they recognise the deep identity which, beneath these disparities, 
unites them. 

He only is fit for this society who is magnanimous. He must 
be so to know its law. He must be one who is sure that greatness 
and goodness are always economy. He must be one who is not 
swift to intermeddle with his fortunes. Let him not dare to inter- 
meddle with this. Leave to the diamond its ages to grow, nor ex- 
pect to accelerate the births of the eternal. Friendship demands a 
religious treatment. We must not be wilful, we must not provide. 



FRIENDSHIP 115 

We talk of choosing our friends, but friends are self-elected. Rever- 
ence is a great part of it. Treat your friend as a speaacle. Of course 
if he be a man he has merits that are not yours, and that you cannot 
honor if you must needs hold him close to your person. Stand aside. 
Give those merits room. Let them mount and expand. Be not so 
much his friend that you can never know his peculiar energies, 
hke fond mammas who shut up their boy in the house until he is 
almost grown a girl. Are you the friend of your friend's buttons, 
or of his thought ? To a great heart he will still be a stranger in a 
thousand particulars, that he may come near in the holiest ground. 
Leave it to girls and boys to regard a friend as property, and 
to suck a short and ill<onfounding pleasure, instead of the pure 
nectar of God. 

Let us buy our entrance to this guild by a long probation. Why 
should we desecrate noble and beautiful souls by intruding on them? 
Why insist on rash personal relations with your friend? Why go 
to his house, or know his mother and brother and sisters? Why be 
visited by him at your own? Are these things material to our 
covenant? Leave this touching and clawing. Let him be to me a 
spirit. A message, a thought, a sincerity, a glance from him, I want, 
but not news, nor pottage. I can get politics and chat and neigh- 
borly conveniences from cheaper companions. Should not the 
society of my friend be to me poetic, pure, universal and great as 
nature itself? Ought I to feel that our tie is profane in comparison 
with yonder bar of cloud that sleeps on the horizon, or that clump 
of waving grass that divides the brook? Let us not vilify, but raise 
it to that standard. That great defying eye, that scornful beauty 
of his mien and action, do not pique yourself on reducing, but 
rather fortify and enhance. Worship his superiorities. Wish him 
not less by a thought, but hoard and tell them all. Guard him as 
thy great counterpart; have a princedom to thy friend. Let him be 
to thee forever a sort of beautiful enemy, untamable, devoutly 
revered, and not a trivial conveniency to be soon outgrown and cast 
aside. The hues of the opal, the light of the diamond, are not to 
be seen if the eye is too near. To my friend I write a letter and from 
him I receive a letter. That seems to you a little. Me it suffices. 
It is a spiritual gift, worthy of him to give and of me to receive. 



Il6 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

It profanes nobody. In these warm lines the heart will trust itself, 
as it will not to the tongue, and pxjur out the prophecy of a godlier 
existence than all the annals of heroism have yet made good. 

Respect so far the holy laws of this fellowship as not to prejudice 
its perfect flower by your impatience for its opening. We must be 
our own before we can be another's. There is at least this satis- 
faction in crime, according to the Latin proverb; you can speak 
to your accomplice on even terms. Crimen quos inquinat, aquat. 
To those whom we admire and love, at first we cannot. Yet the 
least defect of self-possession vitiates, in my judgment, the entire 
relation. There can never be deep p)eace between two spirits, never 
mutual respect, until in their dialogue each stands for the whole 
world. 

What is so great as friendship, let us carry with what grandeur 
of spirit we can. Let us be silent, — so we may hear the whisper of 
the gods. Let us not interfere. Who set you to cast about what 
you should say to the select souls, or to say anything to such? No 
matter how ingenious, no matter how graceful and bland. There 
are innumerable degrees of folly and wisdom, and for you to say 
aught is to be frivolous. Wait, and thy soul shall speak. Wait until 
the necessary and everlasting overpowers you, until day and night 
avail themselves of your lips. The only money of God is God. He 
pays never with any thing less, or any thing else. The only reward 
of virtue is virtue: the only way to have a friend is to be one. You 
shall not come nearer a man by getting into his house. If unlike, 
his soul only flees the faster from you, and you shall catch never 
a true glance of his eye. We see the noble afar off and they repel 
us; why should we intrude? Late, — very late, — we perceive that no 
arrangements, no introductions, no consuetudes or habits of society 
would be of any avail to establish us in such relations with them 
as we desire, — but solely the uprise of nature in us to the same 
degree it is in them: then shall we meet as water with water: and 
if we should not meet them then, we shall not want them, for 
we are already they. In the last analysis, love is only the reflection 
of a man's own worthiness from other men. Men have sometimes 
exchanged names with their friends, as if they would signify that 
in their friend each loved his own soul. 



FRIENDSHIP 117 

The higher the style we demand of friendship, of course the less 
easy to estaWish it with flesh and blood. We walk alone in the 
world. Friends such as we desire are dreams and fables. But a 
sublime hope cheers ever the faithful heart, that elsewhere, in other 
regions of the universal pKJwer, souls are now acting, enduring 
and daring, which can love us and which we can love. We may 
congratulate ourselves that the period of nonage, of follies, of 
blunders and of shame, is passed in soUtude, and when we are 
finished men we shall grasp heroic hands in heroic hands. Only 
be admonished by what you already see, not to strike leagues of 
friendship with cheap persons, where no friendship can be. Our 
impatience betrays us into rash and foolish alliances which no God 
attends. By persisting in your path, though you forfeit the little 
you gain the great. You become pronounced. You demonstrate your- 
self, so as to put yourself out of the reach of false relations, and 
draw to you the first-born of the world, — those rare pilgrims whereof 
only one or two wander in nature at once, and before whom the 
vulgar great show as spectres and shadows merely. 

It is foolish to be afraid of making our ties too spiritual, as if so 
we could lose any genuine love. Whatever correction of our pop- 
ular views we make from insight, nature will be sure to bear us 
out in, and though it seem to rob us of some joy, will repay us 
with a greater. Let us feel if we will the absolute insulation of man. 
We are sure that we have all in us. We go to Europe, or we pursue 
persons, or we read books, in the instinctive faith that these will 
call it out and reveal us to ourselves. Beggars all. The persons 
are such as we; the Europe, an old faded garment of dead persons; 
the books, their ghosts. Let us drop this idolatry. Let us give over 
this mendicancy. Let us even bid our dearest friends farewell, and 
defy them, saying "Who are you? Unhand me: I will be dependent 
no more." Ah! seest thou not, O brother, that thus we part only to 
meet again on a higher platform, and only be more each other's 
because we are more our own? A friend is Janus-faced: he looks 
to the past and the future. He is the child of all my foregoing hours, 
the prophet of those to come. He is the harbinger of a greater 
friend. It is the property of the divine to be reproductive. 

I do then with my friends as I do with my books. I would have 



Il8 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

them where I can find them, but I seldom use them. We must have 
society on our own terms, and admit or exclude it on the slightest 
cause. I cannot afford to speak much with my friend. If he is great 
he makes me so great that I cannot descend to converse. In the 
great days, presentiments hover before me, far before me, in the 
firmament. I ought then to dedicate myself to them. I go in that 
I may seize them, I go out that I may seize them. I fear only that 
I may lose them receding into the sky in which now they are only 
a patch of brighter light. Then, though I prize my friends, I can- 
not afford to talk with them and study their visions, lest I lose my 
own. It would indeed give me a certain household joy to quit this 
lofty seeking, this spiritual astronomy or search of stars, and come 
down to warm sympathies with you; but then I know well I shall 
mourn always the vanishing of my mighty gods. It is true, next 
week I shall have languid times, when I can well afford to occupy 
myself with foreign objects; then I shall regret the lost literature of 
your mind, and wish you were by my side again. But if you come, 
perhaps you will fill my mind only with new visions; not with 
yourself but with your lustres, and I shall not be able any more 
than now to converse with you. So I will owe to my friends this 
evanescent intercourse. I will receive from them not what they have 
but what they are. They shall give me that which properly they 
cannot give me, but which emanates from them. But they shall 
not hold me by any relations less subtle and pure. We will meet 
as though we met not, and part as though we parted not. 

It has seemed to me lately more possible than I knew, to carry 
a friendship greatly on one side, without due correspondence on 
the other. Why should I cumber myself with the poor fact that the 
receiver is not capacious? It never troubles the sun that some of 
his rays fall wide and vain into ungrateful space, and only a small 
part on the reflecting planet. Let your greatness educate the crude 
and cold companion. If he is unequal he will presently pass away; 
but thou art enlarged by thy own shining, and no longer a mate 
for frogs and worms, dost soar and burn with the gods of the 
empyrean. It is thought a disgrace to love unrequited. But the 
great will see that true love cannot be unrequited. True love tran- 
scends instantly the unworthy object and dwells and broods on the 



FRIENDSHIP 119 

eternal, and when the poor interposed mask crumbles, it is not sad, 
but feels rid of so much earth and feels its independency the surer. 
Yet these things may hardly be said without a sort of treachery to 
the relation. The essence of friendship is entireness, a total mag- 
nanimity and trust. It must not surmise or provide for infirmity. 
It treats its object as a god, that it may deify both. 



HEROISM 

(1841) 

Paradise is under the shadow of swords. 

— Mahomet. 

IN the elder English dramatists, and mainly in the plays of 
Beaumont and Fletcher, there is a constant recognition of gen- 
tility, as if a noble behavior were as easily marked in the society 
of their age as color is in our American population. When any 
Rodrigo, Pedro or Valerio enters, though he be a stranger, the 
duke or governor exclaims, "This is a gentleman," and proffers 
civilities without end; but all the rest are slag and refuse. In har- 
mony with this delight in personal advantages there is in their plays 
a certain heroic cast of character and dialogue, — as in Bonduca, 
Sophocles, the Mad Lover, the Double Marriage, — wherein the 
speaker is so earnest and cordial and on such deep grounds of 
character, that the dialogue, on the slightest additional incident 
in the plot, rises naturally into poetry. Among many texts take the 
following. The Roman Martius has conquered Athens, — all but the 
invincible spirits of Sophocles, the duke of Athens, and Dorigen, his 
wife. The beauty of the latter inflames Martius, and he seeks to 
save her husband; but Sophocles will not ask his life, although 
assured that a word will save him, and the execution of both pro- 
ceeds: — 

Valerius. Bid thy wife farewell. 

Soph. No, I will take no leave. My Dorigen, 

Yonder, above, 'bout Ariadne's crown, 

My spirit shall hover for thee. Prithee, haste. 

Dor. Stay, Sophocles, — with this tie up my sight; 

Let not soft nature so transformed be, 

And lose her gender sexed humanity. 

To make me see my lord bleed. So, 't is well; 

Never one object underneath the sun 

Will I behold before my Sophocles: 

Farewell; now teach the Romans how to die. 



122 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

\far. Dost know what 't is to die? 

Soph. Thou dost not, Martius, 
And, therefore, not what 't is to live; to die 
Is to begin to live. It is to end 
An old, stale, weary work and to commence 
A newer and a better. T is to leave 
Deceitful knaves for the society 
Of gods and goodness. Thou thyself must part 
At last from all thy garlands, pleasures, triumphs, 
And prove thy fortitude what then 't will do. 

Vol. But art not grieved nor vexed to leave thy life thus.' 

Soph. Why should I grieve or vex for being sent 
To them I ever loved best? Now I'll kneel, 
But with my back toward thee: 't is the last duty 
This trunk can do the gods. 

Mar. Strike, strike, Valerius, 
Or Martius' heart will leap out at his mouth. 
This is a man, a woman. Kiss thy lord. 
And live with all the freedom you were wont. 
O love! thou doubly hast afflicted me 
With virtue and with beauty. Treacherous heart. 
My hand shall cast thee quick into my urn, 
Ere thou transgress this knot of piety. 

Vol. What ails my brother.' 

Soph. Martius, O Martius, 
Thou now hast found a way to conquer me. 

Dor. O star of Rome! what gratitude can speak 
Fit words to follow such a deed as this.' 

Mar. This admirable duke, Valerius, 
With his disdain of fortune and of death, 
Captived himself, has captivated me. 
And though my arm hath ta'en his body here. 
His soul hath subjugated Martius' soul. 
By Romulus, he is all soul, I think; 
He hath no flesh, and spirit cannot be gyved. 
Then we have vanquished nothing; he is free, 
And Martius walks now in captivity. 

I do not readily remember any poem, play, sermon, novel or 
oration that our press vents in the last few years, which goes to the 
same tune. We have a great many flutes and flageolets, but not 
often the sound of any fife. Yet Wordsworth's "Laodamia," and 
the ode of "Dion," and some sonnets, have a certain noble music; 
and Scott will sometimes draw a stroke like the portrait of Lord 



HEROISM 123 

Evandale given by Balfour of Burley. Thomas Carlyle, with his 
natural taste for what is manly and daring in character, has suffered 
no heroic trait in his favorites to drop from his biographical and 
historical pictures. Earlier, Robert Burns has given us a song or 
two. In the Harleian Miscellanies there is an account of the battle 
of Lutzen which deserves to be read. And Simon Ockley's History 
of the Saracens recounts the prodigies of individual valor, with 
admiration all the more evident on the part of the narrator that 
he seems to think that his place in Christian Oxford requires of him 
some proper protestations of abhorrence. But if we explore the 
literature of Heroism we shall quickly come to Plutarch, who is its 
Doctor and historian. To him we owe the Brasidas, the Dion, the 
Epaminondas, the Scipio of old, and I must think we are more 
deeply indebted to him than to all the ancient writers. Each of 
his "Lives" is a refutation to the despondency and cowardice of 
our religious and political theorists. A wild courage, a stoicism not 
of the schools but of the blood, shines in every anecdote, and has 
given that book its immense fame. 

We need books of this tart cathartic virtue more than books of 
political science or of private economy. Life is a festival only to the 
wise. Seen from the nook and chimney-side of prudence, it wears 
a ragged and dangerous front. The violations of the laws of nature 
by our predecessors and our contempxjraries are punished in us also. 
The disease and deformity around us certify the infraction of nat- 
ural, intellectual and moral laws, and often violation on violation 
to breed such compound misery. A lockjaw that bends a man's head 
back to his heels; hydrophobia that makes him bark at his wife and 
babes; insanity that makes him eat grass; war, plague, cholera, 
famine, indicate a certain ferocity in nature, which, as it had its 
inlet by human crime, must have its outlet by human suffering. 
Unhappily almost no man exists who has not in his own person 
become to some amount a stockholder in the sin, and so made 
himself liable to a share in the expiation. 

Our culture therefore must not omit the arming of the man. Let 
him hear in season that he is born into the state of war, and that the 
commonwealth and his own well-being require that he should not 
go dancing in the weeds of peace, but warned, self-collected and 



124 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

neither defying nor dreading the thunder, let him take both repu- 
tation and hfe in his hand, and with perfect urbanity dare the gibbet 
and the mob by the absolute truth of his speech and the rectitude 
of his behavior. 

Towards all this external evil the man within the breast assumes 
a warhke attitude, and affirms his ability to cope single-handed with 
the infinite army of enemies. To this military attitude of the soul 
we give the name of Heroism. Its rudest form is the contempt for 
safety and ease, which makes the attractiveness of war. It is a self- 
trust which slights the restraints of prudence, in the plenitude of its 
energy and power to repair the harms it may suffer. The hero is 
a mind of such balance that no disturbances can shake his will, 
but pleasantly and as it were merrily he advances to his own music, 
alike in frightful alarms and in the tipsy mirth of universal disso- 
luteness. There is somewhat not philosophical in heroism; there is 
somewhat not holy in it; it seems not to know that other souls are 
of one texture with it; it hath pride; it is the extreme of individual 
nature. Nevertheless we must profoundly revere it. There is some- 
what in great actions which does not allow us to go behind them. 
Heroism feels and never reasons, and therefore is always right; and 
although a different breeding, different religion and greater intellec- 
tual activity would have modified or even reversed the particular 
action, yet for the hero that thing he does is the highest deed, and is 
not open to the censure of philosophers or divines. It is the avowal 
of the unschooled man that he finds a quality in him that is negli- 
gent of expense, of health, of life, of danger, of hatred, of reproach, 
and that he knows that his will is higher and more excellent than 
all actual and all possible antagonists. 

Heroism works in contradiction to the voice of mankind and in 
contradiction, for a time, to the voice of the great and good. Hero- 
ism is an obedience to a secret impulse of an individual's character. 
Now to no other man can its wisdom appear as it does to him, for 
every man must be supposed to see a little farther on his own proper 
path than any one else. Therefore just and wise men take umbrage 
at his act, until after some little time be past: then they see it to be 
in unison with their acts. All prudent men see that the action is 
clean contrary to a sensual prosperity; for every heroic act measures 



HEROISM 125 

itself by its contempt of some external good. But it finds its own 
success at last, and then the prudent also extol. 

Self-trust is the essence of heroism. It is the state of the soul at war, 
and its ultimate objects are the last defiance of falsehood and wrong, 
and the power to bear all that can be inflicted by evil agents. It 
speaks the truth and it is just. It is generous, hospitable, temperate, 
scornful of petty calculations and scornful of being scorned. It 
persists; it is of an undaunted boldness and of a fortitude not to be 
wearied out. Its jest is the littleness of common life. That false 
prudence which dotes on health and wealth is the foil, the butt and 
merriment of heroism. Heroism, like Plotinus, is almost ashamed 
of its body. What shall it say then to the sugar-plums and cats'- 
cradles, to the toilet, compliments, quarrels, cards and custard, which 
rack the wit of all human society? What joys has kind nature pro- 
vided for us dear creatures! There seems to be no interval between 
greatness and meanness. When the spirit is not master of the world, 
then it is its dupe. Yet the little man takes the great hoax so inno- 
cently, works in it so headlong and believing, is born red, and dies 
gray, arranging his toilet, attending on his own health, laying traps 
for sweet food and strong wine, setting his heart on a horse or a 
rifle, made happy with a little gossip or a little praise, that the great 
soul cannot choose but laugh at such earnest nonsense. "Indeed, 
these humble considerations make me out of love with greatness. 
What a disgrace is it to me to take note how many pairs of silk 
stockings thou hast, namely, these and those that were the peach- 
colored ones; or to bear the inventory of thy shirts, as one for 
superfluity, and one other for use." 

Citizens, thinking after the laws of arithmetic, consider the in- 
convenience of receiving strangers at their fireside, reckon narrowly 
the loss of time and the unusual display : the soul of a better quality 
thrusts back the unseasonable economy into the vaults of life, and 
says, I will obey the God, and the sacrifice and the fire he will 
provide. Ibn Hankal, the Arabian geographer, describes a heroic 
extreme in the hospitality of Sogd, in Bukharia. "When I was in 
Sogd I saw a great building, like a palace, the gates of which were 
open and fixed back to the wall with large nails. I asked the reason, 
and was told that the house had not been shut, night or day, for 



126 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

a hundred years. Strangers may present themselves at any hour 
and in whatever number; the master has amply provided for the 
reception of the men and their animals and is never happier than 
when they tarry for some time. Nothing of the kind have I seen 
in any other country." The magnanimous know very well that they 
who give time, or money, or shelter, to the stranger, — so it be done 
for love and not for ostentation, — do, as it were, put God under 
obligation to them, so perfect are the compensations of the universe. 
In some way the time they seem to lose is redeemed and the pains 
they seem to take remunerate themselves. These men fan the flame 
of human love and raise the standard of civil virtue among mankind. 
But hospitality must be for service and not for show, or it pulls 
down the host. The brave soul rates itself too high to value itself 
by the splendor of its table and draperies. It gives what it hath, 
and all it hath, but its own majesty can lend a better grace to ban- 
nocks and fair water than belong to city feasts. 

The temperance of the hero proceeds from the same wish to do 
no dishonor to the worthiness he has. But he loves it for its elegancy, 
not for its austerity. It seems not worth his while to be solemn and 
denounce with bitterness flesh-eating or wine-drinking, the use of 
tobacco, or opium, or tea, or silk, or gold. A great man scarcely 
knows how he dines, how he dresses, but without railing or pre- 
cision his living is natural and poetic. John Eliot, the Indian Apostle, 
drank water, and said of wine, "It is a noble, generous liquor and 
we should be humbly thankful for it, but, as I remember, water 
was made before it." Better still is the temf)erance of King David, 
who poured out on the ground unto the Lord the water which 
three of his warriors had brought him to drink, at the peril of their 
lives. 

It is told of Brutus, that when he fell on his sword after the battle 
of Philippi, he quoted a line of Euripides, "O Virtue! I have fol- 
lowed thee through life, and I find thee at last but a shade." I 
doubt not the hero is slandered by this report. The heroic soul does 
not sell its justice and its nobleness. It does not ask to dine nicely 
and to sleep warm. The essence of greatness is the perception that 
virtue is enough. Poverty is its ornament. Plenty does not need it, 
and can very well abide its loss. 



HEROISM 127 

But that which takes my fancy most in the heroic class, is the 
good-humor and hilarity they exhibit. It is a height to which 
common duty can very well attain, to suffer and to dare with 
solemnity. But these rare souls set opinion, success, and life at so 
cheap a rate that they will not soothe their enemies by petitions, or 
the show of sorrow, but wear their own habitual greatness. Scipio, 
charged with peculation, refuses to do himself so great a disgrace 
as to wait for justification, though he had the scroll of his accounts 
in his hands, but tears it to pieces before the tribunes. Socrates's 
condemnation of himself to be maintained in all honor in the Pry- 
taneum, during his life, and Sir Thomas More's playfulness at the 
scaffold, are of the same strain. In Beaumont and Fletcher's "Sea 
Voyage," Juletta tells the stout captain and his company, — 

Jul. Why, slaves, 't is in our power to hang ye. 
Master. Very likely, 

'T is in our powers, then, to be hanged, and scorn ye. 

These replies are sound and whole. Sport is the bloom and glow 
of a perfect health. The great will not condescend to take any thing 
seriously; all must be as gay as the song of a canary, though it were 
the building of cities or the eradication of old and fooHsh churches 
and nations which have cumbered the earth long thousands of 
years. Simple hearts put all the history and customs of this world 
behind them, and play their own play in innocent defiance of the 
Blue-Laws of the world; and such would appear, could we see 
the human race assembled in vision, like Uttle children frolicking 
together, though to the eyes of mankind at large they wear a stately 
and solemn garb of works and influences. 

The interest these fine stories have for us, the power of a romance 
over the boy who grasps the forbidden book under his bench at 
school, our delight in the hero, is the main fact to our purpose. All 
these great and transcendent properties are ours. If we dilate in 
beholding the Greek energy, the Roman pride, it is that we are 
already domesticating the same sentiment. Let us find room for this 
great guest in our small houses. The first step of worthiness will 
be to disabuse us of our superstitious associations with places and 
times, with number and size. Why should these words, Athenian, 
Roman, Asia and England, so tingle in the ear? Let us feel that 



128 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

where the heart is, there the muses, there the gods sojourn, and not 
in any geography of fame. Massachusetts, Connecticut River and 
Boston Bay you think pahry places, and the ear loves names of 
foreign and classic topwgraphy. But here we are: — that is a great 
fact, and, if we will tarry a little, we may come to learn that here 
is best. See to it only that thyself is here, — and art and nature, hope 
and dread, friends, angels and the Supreme Being shall not be 
absent from the chamber where thou sittest. Epaminondas, brave 
and affectionate, does not seem to us to need Olympus to die upon, 
nor the Syrian sunshine. He lies very well where he is. The Jerseys 
were handsome ground enough for Washington to tread, and Lon- 
don streets for the feet of Milton. A great man illustrates his place, 
makes his climate genial in the imagination of men, and its air the 
beloved element of all delicate spirits. That country is the fairest 
which is inhabited by the noblest minds. The pictures which fill the 
imagination in reading the actions of Pericles, Xenophon, Colum- 
bus, Bayard, Sidney, Hampden, teach us how needlessly mean our 
life is; that we, by the depth of our living, should deck it with more 
than regal or national splendor, and act on principles that should 
interest man and nature in the length of our days. 

We have seen or heard of many extraordinary young men who 
never ripened, or whose performance in actual life was not extraor- 
dinary. When we see their air and mien, when we hear them speak 
of society, of books, of religion, we admire their sujjeriority; they 
seem to throw contempt on the whole state of the world; theirs is 
the tone of a youthful giant who is sent to work revolutions. But 
they enter an active profession and the forming Colossus shrinks to 
the common size of man. The magic they used was the ideal tend- 
encies, which always makes the Actual ridiculous; but the tough 
world has its revenge the moment they put their horses of the sun to 
plough in its furrow. They found no example and no companion, 
and their heart fainted. What then ? The lesson they gave in their 
first aspirations is yet true; and a better valor and a purer truth shall 
one day execute their will and put the world to shame. Or why 
should a woman liken herself to any historical woman, and think, 
because Sappho, or Sevigne, or De Stael, or the cloistered souls who 
have had genius and cultivation do not satisfy the imagination and 



HEROISM 129 

the serene Themis, none can, — certainly not she. Why not ? She has 
a new and unattempted problem to solve, perchance that of the 
happiest nature that ever bloomed. Let the maiden, with erect soul, 
walk serenely on her way, accept the hint of each new experience, try 
in turn all the gifts God offers her that she may learn the power and 
the charm that like a new dawn radiating of the deep of space, her 
new-born being is. The fair girl who repels interference by a decided 
and proud choice of influences, so careless of pleasing, so wilful and 
lofty, inspires every beholder with somewhat of her own nobleness. 
The silent heart encourages her; O friend, never strike sail to a fear. 
Come into port greatly, or sail with God the seas. Not in vain you 
live, for every passing eye is cheered and refined by the vision. 

The characteristic of genuine heroism is its {persistency. All men 
have wandering impulses, fits and starts of generosity. But when you 
have resolved to be great, abide by yourself, and do not weakly try to 
reconcile yourself with the world. The heroic cannot be the com- 
mon, nor the common the heroic. Yet we have the weakness to 
expect the sympathy of people in those actions whose excellence is 
that they outrun sympathy and appeal to a tardy justice. If you would 
serve your brother, because it is fit for you to serve him, do not take 
back your words when you find that prudent p)eople do not com- 
mend you. Be true to your own act, and congratulate yourself if you 
have done something strange and extravagant and broken the monot- 
ony of a decorous age. It was a high counsel that I once heard given 
to a young person, "Always do what you are afraid to do." A simple 
manly character need never make an apology, but should regard its 
past action with the calmness of Phocion, when he admitted that the 
event of the battle was happy, yet did not regret his dissuasion from 
the battle. 

There is no weakness or exposure for which we cannot find con- 
solation in the thought, — this is a part of my constitution, part of 
my relation and office to my fellow<reature. Has nature covenanted 
with me that I should never appear to disadvantage, never make a 
ridiculous figure? Let us be generous of our dignity as well as of 
our money. Greatness once and for ever has done with opinion. We 
tell our charities, not because we wish to be praised for them, not 
because we think they have great merit, but for our justification. It is 



130 RALPH WAUX) EMERSON 

a capital blunder; as you discover when another man recites his 
charities. 

To speak the truth, even with some austerity, to live with some 
rigor of temperance, or some extremes of generosity, seems to be an 
asceticism which common good nature would appoint to those who 
are at ease and in plenty, in sign that they feel a brotherhood with the 
great multitude of suffering men. And not only need we breathe and 
exercise the soul by assuming the penalties of abstinence, of debt, of 
solitude, of unpopularity, but it behooves the wise man to look with 
a bold eye into those rarer dangers which sometimes invade men, 
and to familiarize himself with disgusting forms of disease, with 
sounds of execration, and the vision of violent death. 

Times of heroism are generally times of terror, but the day never 
shines in which this element may not work. The circumstances of 
man, we say, are historically somewhat better in this country and at 
this hour than perhaps ever before. More freedom exists for culture. 
It will not now run against an axe at the first step out of the beaten 
track of opinion. But whoso is heroic will always find crises to try his 
edge. Human virtue demands her champions and martyrs, and the 
trial of persecution always proceeds. It is but the other day that the 
brave Lovejoy gave his breast to the bullets of a mob, for the rights 
of free speech and opinion, and died when it was better not to live. 

I see not any road of perfect peace which a man can walk, but to 
take counsel of his own bosom. Let him quit too much association, 
let him go home much, and stablish himself in those courses he ap- 
proves. The unremitting retention of simple and high sentiments in 
obscure duties is hardening the character to that temper which will 
work with honor, if need be in the tumult, or on the scaffold. What- 
ever outrages have happened to men may befall a man again: and 
very easily in a republic, if there appear any signs of a decay of 
reUgion. Coarse slander, fire, tar and feathers and the gibbet, the 
youth may freely bring home to his mind and with what sweetness 
of temper he can, and inquire how fast he can fix his sense of duty, 
braving such penalties, whenever it may please the next newspaper 
and a sufficient number of his neighbors to pronounce his opinions 
incendiary. 



HEROISM 131 

It may calm the apprehension of calamity in the most susceptible 
heart to see how quick a bound Nature has set to the utmost inflic- 
tion of malice. We rapidly approach a brink over which no enemy 
can follow us. 

Let them rave: 
Thou art quiet in thy grave. 

In the gloom of our ignorance of what shall be, in the hour when we 
are deaf to the higher voices, who does not envy them who have seen 
safely to an end their manful endeavor ? Who that sees the meanness 
of our politics but inly congratulates Washington that he is long 
already wrapped in his shroud, and for ever safe; that he was laid 
sweet in his grave, the hope of humanity not yet subjugated in him? 
Who does not sometimes envy the good and brave who are no more 
to suffer from the tumults of the natural world, and await with 
curious complacency the speedy term of his own conversation with 
finite nature ? And yet the love that will be annihilated sooner than 
treacherous has already made death impossible, and affirms itself no 
mortal but a native of the deeps of absolute and inextinguishable 
being. 



THE OVER-SOUL 

(1841) 

But souls that of his own good life partake, 
He loves as his own self; dear as his eye 
They are to Him: He'll never them forsake: 
When they shall die, then God himself shall die: 
They live, they live in blest eternity. 

— Henry More. 

THERE is a difference between one and another hour of 
life in their authority and subsequent effect. Our faith 
comes in moments; our vice is habitual. Yet there is a depth 
in those brief moments which constrains us to ascribe more reality 
to them than to all other experiences. For this reason the argument 
which is always forthcoming to silence those who conceive extra- 
ordinary hopes of man, namely the appeal to experience, is for ever 
invalid and vain. A mightier hop)e abolishes despair. We give up 
the past to the objector, and yet we hop)e. He must explain this hope. 
We grant that human life is mean, but how did we find out that it 
was mean? What is the ground of this uneasiness of ours; of this 
old discontent? What is the universal sense of want and ignorance, 
but the fine innuendo by which the great soul makes its enormous 
claim? Why do men feel that the natural history of man has never 
been written, but always he is leaving behind what you have said 
of him, and it becomes old, and books of metaphysics worthless? 
The philosophy of six thousand years has not searched the cham- 
bers and magazines of the soul. In its experiments there has always 
remained, in the last analysis, a residuum it could not resolve. Man 
is a stream whose source is hidden. Always our being is descending 
into us from we know not whence. The most exact calculator has 
no prescience that somewhat incalculable may not baulk the very 
next moment. I am constrained every moment to acknowledge a 
higher origin for events than the will I call mine. 
As with events, so is it with thoughts. When I watch that flowing 

133 



134 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

river, which, out of regions I see not, pours for a season its streams 
into me, — I see that I am a pensioner, — not a cause but a surprised 
spectator of this ethereal water; that I desire and look up and put 
myself in the attitude of reception, but from some alien energy the 
visions come. 

The Supreme Critic on all the errors of the past and the present, 
and the only prophet of that which must be, is that great nature in 
which we rest as the earth lies in the soft arms of the atmosphere; 
that Unity, that Over-soul, within which every man's particular 
being is contained and made one with all other; that common heart 
of which all sincere conversation is the worship, to which all right 
action is submission; that overpowering reality which confutes our 
tricks and talents, and constrains every one to pass for what he is, 
and to speak from his character and not from his tongue, and which 
evermore tends to pass into our thought and hand and become wis- 
dom and virtue and power and beauty. We live in succession, in 
division, in parts, in particles. Meantime within man is the soul of 
the whole; the wise silence; the universal beauty, to which every part 
and particle is equally related; the eternal One. And this deep 
power in which we exist and whose beatitude is all accessible to us, 
is not only self-sufficing and perfect in every hour, but the act of 
seeing and the thing seen, the seer and the spectacle, the subject and 
the object, are one. We see the world piece by piece, as the sun, the 
moon, the animal, the tree; but the whole, of which these are the 
shining parts, is the soul. Only by the vision of that Wisdom can 
the horoscope of the ages be read, and by falling back on our better 
thoughts, by yielding to the spirit of prophecy which is innate in 
every man that we can know what it saith. Every man's words who 
speaks from that life must sound vain to those who do not dwell in 
the same thought on their own part. I dare not speak for it. My 
words do not carry its august sense; they fall short and cold. Only 
itself can inspire whom it will, and behold! their speech shall be 
lyrical, and sweet, and universal as the rising of the wind. Yet I 
desire, even by profane words, if sacred I may not use, to indicate the 
heaven of this deity and to report what hints I have collected of the 
transcendent simplicity and energy of the Highest Law. 

If we consider what happens in conversation, in reveries, in re- 



THE OVER-SOUL 1 35 

morse, in times of passion, in surprises, in the instructions of dreams, 
wherein often we see ourselves in masquerade, — the droll disguises 
only magnifying and enhancing a real element and forcing it on our 
distinct notice, — we shall catch many hints that will broaden and 
lighten into knowledge of the secret of nature. All goes to show that 
the soul in man is not an organ, but animates and exercises all the 
organs; is not a function, like the power of memory, of calculation, 
of comparison, — but uses these as hands and feet; is not a faculty, but 
a light; is not the intellect or the will, but the master of the intellect 
and the will; — is the vast background of our being, in which they 
lie, — an immensity not possessed and that cannot be possessed. From 
within or from behind, a light shines through us upon things and 
makes us aware that we are nothing, but the light is all. A man is 
the fa9ade of a temple wherein all wisdom and all good abide. What 
we commonly call man, the eating, drinking, planting, counting 
man, does not, as we know him, represent himself, but misrepre- 
sents himself. Him we do not resf)ect, but the soul, whose organ he 
is, would he let it appear through his action, would make our knees 
bend. When it breathes through his intellect, it is genius; when it 
breathes through his will, it is virtue; when it flows through his affec- 
tion, it is love. And the blindness of the intellect begins when it 
would be something of itself. The weakness of the will begins when 
the individual would be something of himself. All reform aims in 
some one particular to let the great soul have its way through us; in 
other words, to engage us to obey. 

Of this pure nature every man is at some time sensible. Language 
cannot paint it with his colors. It is too subtle. It is undefinable, un- 
measurable; but we know that it pervades and contains us. We know 
that all spiritual being is in man. A wise old proverb says, "God 
comes to see us without bell:" that is, as there is no screen or ceiling 
between our heads and the infinite heavens, so is there no bar or wall 
in the soul, where man, the effect, ceases, and God, the cause, begins. 
The walls are taken away. We lie ojjen on one side to the deeps of 
spiritual nature, to all the attributes of God. Justice we see and know. 
Love, Freedom, Power. These natures no man ever got above, but 
always they tower over us, and most in the moment when our 
interests tempt us to wound them. 



136 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

The sovereignty of this nature whereof we speak is made known 
by its independency of those limitations which circumscribe us on 
every hand. The soul circumscribeth all things. As I have said, it 
contradicts all experience. In like manner it abolishes time and 
space. The influence of the senses has in most men overpowered the 
mind to that degree that the walls of time and space have come to 
look solid, real and insurmountable; and to speak with levity of 
these limits is, in the world, the sign of insanity. Yet time and space 
are but inverse measures of the force of the soul. A man is capable of 
abolishing them both. The spirit sports with time — 

Can crowd eternity into an hour. 
Or stretch an hour to eternity. 

We are often made to feel that there is another youth and age than 
that which is measured from the year of our natural birth. Some 
thoughts always find us young, and keep us so. Such a thought is 
the love of the universal and eternal beauty. Every man parts from 
that contemplation with the feeling that it rather belongs to ages than 
to mortal life. The least activity of the intellectual powers redeems us 
in a degree from the influences of time. In sickness, in languor, give 
us a strain of poetry or a profound sentence, and we are refreshed; 
or produce a volume of Plato or Shakspeare, or remind us of their 
names, and instantly we come into a feeling of longevity. See how 
the deep divine thought demolishes centuries and millenniums, and 
makes itself present through all ages. Is the teaching of Christ less 
effective now than it was when first his mouth was opened? The 
emphasis of facts and persons to my soul has nothing to do with 
time. And so always the soul's scale is one; the scale of the senses 
and the understanding is another. Before the great revelations of the 
soul, Time, Space and Nature shrink away. In common speech we 
refer all things to time, as we habitually refer the immensely sun- 
dered stars to one concave sphere. And so we say that the Judgment 
is distant or near, that the Millennium approaches, that a day of 
certain political, moral, social reforms is at hand, and the like, when 
we mean that in the nature of things one of the facts we contemplate 
is external and fugitive, and the other is permanent and connate with 
the soul. The things we now esteem fixed shall, one by one, detach 



THE OVER-SOUL 1 37 

themselves like ripe fruit from our experience, and fall. The wind 
shall blow them none knows whither. The landscape, the figures, 
Boston, London, are facts as fugitive as any institution past, or any 
whiff of mist or smoke, and so is society, and so is the world. The 
soul looketh steadily forwards, creating a world always before her, 
leaving worlds alway behind her. She has no dates, nor rites, nor 
persons, nor specialties, nor men. The soul knows only the soul; all 
else is idle weeds for her wearing. 

After its own law and not by arithmetic is the rate of its progress 
to be computed. The soul's advances are not made by gradation, 
such as can be represented by motion in a straight line, but rather by 
ascension of state, such as can be represented by metamorphosis, — 
from the egg to the worm, from the worm to the fly. The growths 
of genius are of a certain total character, that does not advance the 
elect individual first over John, then Adam, then Richard, and give 
to each the pain of discovered inferiority, but by every throe of 
growth the man expands there where he works, passing at each pul- 
sation, classes, fwpulations, of men. With each divine impulse the 
mind rends the thin rinds of the visible and finite, and comes out into 
eternity, and inspires and expires its air. It converses with truths that 
have always been spoken in the world and becomes conscious of a 
closer sympathy with Zeno and Arrian than with the persons in the 
house. 

This is the law of moral and of mental gain. The simple rise as by 
specific levity not into a particular virtue, but into the region of all 
the virtues. They are in the spirit which contains them all. The soul 
is superior to all the particulars of merit. The soul requires purity, 
but purity is not it; requires justice, but justice is not that; requires 
beneficence, but is somewhat better : so that there is a kind of descent 
and accommodation felt when we leave speaking of moral nature to 
urge a virtue which it enjoins. For, to the soul in her pure action all 
the virtues are natural, and not painfully acquired. Speak to his 
heart, and the man becomes suddenly virtuous. 

Within the same sentiment is the germ of intellectual growth, 
which obeys the same law. Those who are capable of humility, of 
justice, of love, of aspiration, are already on a platform that com- 
mands the sciences and arts, speech and poetry, action and grace. 



138 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

For whoso dwells in this moral beatitude does already anticipate 
those special powers which men prize so highly; just as love does 
justice to all the gifts of the object beloved. The lover has no talent, 
no skill, which passes for quite nothing with his enamored maiden, 
however little she may possess of related faculty; and the heart 
which abandons itself to the Supreme Mind finds itself related to all 
its works, and will travel a royal road to particular knowledges and 
powers. For in ascending to this primary and aboriginal sentiment 
we have come from our remote station on the circumference instan- 
taneously to the centre of the world, where, as in the closet of God, 
we see causes, and anticipate the universe, which is but a slow effect. 
One mode of the divine teaching is the incarnation of the spirit in 
a form, — in forms, like my own. I live in society; with persons who 
answer to thoughts in my own mind, or outwardly express a certain 
obedience to the great instincts to which I Uve. I see its presence 
to them. I am certified of a common nature; and so these other souls, 
these separated selves, draw me as nothing else can. They stir in me 
the new emotions we call passion; of love, hatred, fear, admiration, 
pity; thence come conversation, competition, persuasion, cities and 
war. Persons are supplementary to the primary teaching of the soul. 
In youth we are mad for persons. Childhood and youth see all the 
world in them. But the larger experience of man discovers the 
identical nature apjjearing through them all. Persons themselves 
acquaint us with the impersonal. In all conversation between two 
persons tacit reference is made, as to a third party, to a common 
nature. That third party or common nature is not social; it is im- 
personal; is God. And so in groups where debate is earnest, and 
esfjecially on great questions of thought, the company become aware 
of their unity; aware that the thought rises to an equal height in 
all bosoms, that all have a spiritual property in what was said, as well 
as the sayer. They all wax wiser than they were. It arches over them 
hke a temple, this unity of thought in which every heart beats with 
nobler sense of pxjwer and duty, and thinks and acts with unusual 
solemnity. All are conscious of attaining to a higher self-possession. 
It shines for all. There is a certain wisdom of humanity which is 
common to the greatest men with the lowest, and which our ordinary 
education often labors to silence and obstruct. The mind is one, and 



THE OVER-SOUL 1 39 

the best minds, who love truth for its own sake, think much less of 
property in truth. Thankfully they accept it everywhere, and do not 
label or stamp it with any man's name, for it is theirs long before- 
hand. It is theirs from eternity. The learned and the studious of 
thought have no monopoly of wisdom. Their violence of direction 
in some degree disqualifies them to think truly. We owe many 
valuable observations to people who are not very acute or profound, 
and who say the thing without effort which we want and have long 
been hunting in vain. The action of the soul is oftener in that which 
is felt and left unsaid than in that which is said in any conversation. 
It broods over every society, and they unconsciously seek for it in each 
other. We know better than we do. We do not yet possess ourselves, 
and we know at the same time that we are much more. I feel the 
same truth how often in my trivial conversation with my neighbors, 
that somewhat higher in each of us overlooks this by-play, and Jove 
nods to Jove from behind each of us. 

Men descend to meet. In their habitual and mean service to the 
world, for which they forsake their native nobleness, they resemble 
those Arabian sheiks who dwell in mean houses and effect an external 
poverty, to escape the rapacity of the Pacha, and reserve all their dis- 
play of wealth for their interior and guarded retirements. 

As it is present in all persons, so it is in every period of life. It is 
adult already in the infant man. In my dealing with my child, my 
Latin and Greek, my accomplishments and my money stead me 
nothing. They are all lost on him : but as much soul as I have, avails. 
If I am merely wilful, he gives me a Rowland for an Oliver, sets his 
will against mine, one for one, and leaves me, if I please, the degrada- 
tion of beating him by my superiority of strength. But if I renounce 
my will and act for the soul, setting that up as umpire between us 
two, out of his young eyes looks the same soul; he reveres and loves 
with me. 

The soul is the perceiver and revealer of truth. We know truth 
when we see it, let skeptic and scoffer say what they choose. Foolish 
people ask you, when you have spoken what they do not wish to 
hear, "How do you know it is truth, and not an error of your own ?" 
We know truth when we see it, from opinion, as we know when we 
are awake that we are awake. It was a grand sentence of Emanuel 



T40 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

Swedenborg, which would alone indicate the greatness of that man's 
perception, — "It is no proof of a man's understanding to be able to 
affirm whatever he pleases; but to be able to discern that what is true 
is true, and that what is false is false, this is the mark and character 
of intelligence." In the book I read, the good thought returns to me, 
as every truth will, the image of the whole soul. To the bad thought 
which I find in it, the same soul becomes a discerning, separating 
sword, and lops it away. We are wiser than we know. If we will not 
interfere with our thought, but will act entirely, or see how the thing 
stands in God, we know the particular thing, and every thing, and 
every man. For the Maker of all things and all persons stands behind 
us and casts his dread omniscience through us over things. 

But beyond this recognition of its own in particular passages of 
the individual's experience, it also reveals truth. And here we should 
seek to reinforce ourselves by its very presence, and to speak with a 
worthier, loftier strain of that advent. For the soul's communication 
of truth is the highest event in nature, for it then does not give some- 
what from itself, but it gives itself, or passes into and becomes that 
man whom it enlightens; or, in proportion to that truth he receives, 
it takes him to itself. 

We distinguish the announcements of the soul, its manifestations 
of its own nature, by the term Revelation. These are always attended 
by the emotion of the sublime. For this communication is an influx 
of the Divine mind into our mind. It is an ebb of the individual 
rivulet before the flowing surges of the sea of life. Every distinct 
apprehension of this central commandment agitates men with awe 
and delight. A thrill passes through all men at the reception of new 
truth, or at the performance of a great action, which comes out of the 
heart of nature. In these communications the f)ower to see is not 
separated from the will to do, but the insight proceeds from obedi- 
ence, and the obedience proceeds from a joyful jjerception. Every 
moment when the individual feels himself invaded by it, is memor- 
able. Always, I believe, by the necessity of our constitution a certain 
enthusiasm attends the individual's consciousness of that divine 
presence. The character and duration of this enthusiasm varies with 
the state of the individual, from an exstasy and trance and prophetic 
inspiration, — which is its rarer appearance, to the faintest glow of 



THE OVER-SOUL 14! 

virtuous emotion, in which form it warms, like our household fires, 
all the families and associations of men, and makes society possible. 
A certain tendency to insanity has always attended the opening of 
the religious sense in men, as if "blasted with excess of light." The 
trances of Socrates; the "union" of Plotinus; the vision of Porphyry; 
the conversion of Paul; the aurora of Behmen; the convulsions of 
George Fox and his Quakers; the illumination of Swedenborg, are 
of this kind. What was in the case of these remarkable persons a 
ravishment, has, in innumerable instances in common life, been 
exhibited in less striking manner. Everywhere the history of religion 
betrays a tendency to enthusiasm. The rapture of the Moravian and 
Quietist; the opening of the internal sense of the Word, in the lan- 
guage of the New Jerusalem Church; the revival of the Calvinistic 
churches; the experiences of the Methodists, are varying forms of that 
shudder of awe and deUght with which the individual soul always 
mingles with the universal soul. 

The nature of these revelations is always the same; they are per- 
ceptions of the absolute law. They are solutions of the soul's own 
questions. They do not answer the questions which the understand- 
ing asks. The soul answers never by words, but by the thing itself 
that is inquired after. 

Revelation is the disclosure of the soul. The popular notion of a 
revelation, is, that it is a telling of fortunes. In past oracles of the 
soul the understanding seeks to find answers to sensual questions, 
and undertakes to tell from God how long men shall exist, what their 
hands shall do and who shall be their company, adding even names 
and dates and places. But we must pick no locks. We must check 
this low curiosity. An answer in words is delusive; it is really no 
answer to the questions you ask. Do not require a description of the 
countries towards which you sail. The description does not describe 
them to you, and to-morrow you arrive there and know them by 
inhabiting them. Men ask of the immortality of the soul, and the 
employments of heaven, and the state of the sinner, and so forth. 
They even dream that Jesus has left replies to precisely these inter- 
rogatories. Never a moment did that sublime spirit speak in their 
patois. To truth, justice, love, the attributes of the soul, the idea 
of immutableness is essentially associated. Jesus, living in these 



142 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

moral sentiments, heedless of sensual fortunes, heeding only the 
manifestations of these, never made the separation of the idea of 
duration from the essence of these attributes, never uttered a syllable 
concerning the duration of the soul. It was left to his disciples to sever 
duration from the moral elements, and to teach the immortality of 
the soul as a doctrine, and maintain it by evidences. The moment 
the doctrine of the immortality is separately taught, man is already 
fallen. In the flowing of love, in the adoration of humility, there is 
no question of continuance. No inspired man ever asks this question 
or condescends to these evidences. For the soul is true to itself, and 
the man in whom it is shed abroad cannot wander from the present, 
which is infinite, to a future which would be finite. 

These questions which we lust to ask about the future are a con- 
fession of sin. God has no answer for them. No answer in words can 
reply to a question of things. It is not in an arbitrary "decree of 
God," but in the nature of man, that a veil shuts down on the facts 
of to-morrow : for the soul will not have us read any other cipher but 
that of cause and effect. By this veil which curtains events it instructs 
the children of men to live in to-day. The only mode of obtaining 
an answer to these questions of the senses is to forego all low curi- 
osity, and, accepting the tide of being which floats us into the secret 
of nature, work and live, work and live, and all unawares the ad- 
vancing soul has built and forged for itself a new condition, and the 
question and the answer are one. 

Thus is the soul the perceiver and revealer of truth. By the same 
fire, serene, impersonal, perfect, which burns until it shall dissolve 
all things into the waves and surges of an ocean of light, — we see and 
know each other, and what spirit each is of. Who can tell the 
grounds of his knowledge of the character of the several individuals 
in his circle of friends? No man. Yet their acts and words do not 
disappoint him. In that man, though he knew no ill of him, he put 
no trust. In that other, though they had seldom met, authentic signs 
had yet passed, to signify that he might be trusted as one who had 
an interest in his own character. We know each other very well, — 
which of us has been just to himself and whether that which we 
teach or behold is only an aspiration or is our honest effort also. 

We are all discerners of spirits. That diagnosis Ues aloft in our 



THE OVER-SOUL 1 43 

life or unconscious power, not in the understanding. The whole 
intercourse of society, its trade, its religion, its friendships, its quar- 
rels, — is one wide judicial investigation of character. In full court, 
or in small committee, or confronted face to face, accuser and 
accused, men offer themselves to be judged. Against their will they 
exhibit those decisive trifles by which character is read. But who 
judges? and what? Not our understanding. We do not read them 
by learning or craft. No; the wisdom of the wise man consists herein, 
that he does not judge them; he lets them judge themselves and 
merely reads and records their own verdict. 

By virtue of this inevitable nature, private will is overpowered, 
and, maugre our efforts or our imperfections, your genius will speak 
from you, and mine from me. That which we are, we shall teach, 
not voluntarily, but involuntarily. Thoughts come into our minds 
through avenues which we never left of)en, and thoughts go out of 
our minds through avenues which we never voluntarily opened. 
Character teaches over our head. The infallible index of true prog- 
ress is found in the tone the man takes. Neither his age, nor his 
breeding, nor company, nor books, nor actions, nor talents, nor all 
together can hinder him from being deferential to a higher spirit 
than his own. If he have not found his home in God, his manners, 
his forms of speech, the turn of his sentences, the build, shall I say, 
of all his opinions will involuntarily confess it, let him brave it out 
how he will. If he have found his centre, the Deity will shine 
through him, through all the disguises of ignorance, of ungenial 
temperament, of unfavorable circumstance. The tone of seeking is 
one, and the tone of having is another. 

The great distinction between teachers sacred or literary; between 
poets like Herbert, and poets like Pope; between philosophers like 
Spinoza, Kant and Coleridge, — and philosophers like Locke, Paley, 
Mackintosh and Stewart; between men of the world who are reck- 
oned accomplished talkers, and here and there a fervent mystic, 
prophesying half-insane under the infinitude of his thought, is that 
one class sf)eak from within, or from experience, as parties and 
possessors of the fact; and the other class from without, as s(>ectators 
merely, or perhaps as acquainted with the fact on the evidence of 
third persons. It is of no use to preach to me from without. I can do 



144 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

that too easily myself. Jesus speaks always from within, and in a 
degree that transcends all others. In that is the miracle. That in- 
cludes the miracle. My soul believes beforehand that it ought so to 
be. All men stand continually in the expectation of the appearance 
of such a teacher. But if a man do not speak from within the veil, 
where the word is one with that it tells of, let him lowly confess it. 
The same Omniscience flows into the intellect and makes what we 
call genius. Much of the wisdom of the world is not wisdom, and the 
most illuminated class of men are no doubt superior to literary fame, 
and are not writers. Among the multitude of scholars and authors 
we feel no hallowing presence; we are sensible of a knack and skill 
rather than of inspiration; they have a light and know not whence it 
comes and call it their own : their talent is some exaggerated faculty, 
some overgrown member, so that their strength is a disease. In these 
instances the intellectual gifts do not make the impression of virtue, 
but almost of vice; and we feel that a man's talents stand in the way 
of his advancement in truth. But genius is religious. It is a larger 
imbibing of the common heart. It is not anomalous, but more like 
and not less like other men. There is in all great poets a wisdom of 
humanity which is superior to any talents they exercise. The author, 
the wit, the partisan, the fine gentleman, does not take place of the 
man. Humanity shines in Homer, in Chaucer, in Sjjenser, in Shak- 
speare, in Milton. They are content with truth. They use the posi- 
tive degree. They seem frigid and phlegmatic to those who have 
been spiced with the frantic passion and violent coloring of inferior 
but popular writers. For, they are poets by the free course which they 
allow to the informing soul, which through their eyes beholdeth 
again and blesses the things which it hath made. The soul is superior 
to its knowledge, wiser than any of its works. The great p)oet makes 
us feel our own wealth, and then we think less of his compositions. 
His greatest communication to our mind is to teach us to despise all 
he has done. Shakspeare carries us to such a lofty strain of intelli- 
gent activity as to suggest a wealth which beggars his own; and we 
then feel that the splendid works which he has created, and which in 
other hours we extol as a sort of self-existent poetry, take no stronger 
hold of real nature than the shadow of a passing traveller on the 
rock. The inspiration which uttered itself in Hamlet and Lear could 



THE OVER-SOUL 1 45 

Utter things as good from day to day for ever. Why then should I 
make account of Hamlet and Lear, as if we had not the soul from 
which they fell as syllables from the tongue? 

This energy does not descend into individual life on any other 
condition than entire possession. It comes to the lowly and simple; it 
comes to whomsoever will put off what is foreign and proud; it 
comes as insight; it comes as serenity and grandeur. When we see 
those whom it inhabits, we are apprised of new degrees of greatness. 
From that inspiration the man comes back with a changed tone. 
He does not talk with men with an eye to their opinion. He tries 
them. It requires of us to be plain and true. The vain traveller 
attempts to embellish his life by quoting my Lord and the Prince 
and the Countess, who thus said or did to him. The ambitious 
vulgar show you their spoons and brooches and rings, and preserve 
their cards and compliments. The more cultivated, in their account 
of their own experience, cull out the pleasing, poetic circumstance; 
the visit to Rome, the man of genius they saw; the brilliant friend 
they know; still further on perhaps the gorgeous landscape, the 
mountain lights, the mountain thoughts they enjoyed yesterday, — 
and so seek to throw a romantic color over their life. But the soul 
that ascendeth to worship the great God is plain and true; has no rose 
color; no fine friends; no chivalry; no adventures; does not want 
admiration; dwells in the hour that now is, in the earnest experience 
of the common day, — by reason of the present moment and the 
mere trifle having become porous to thought and bibulous of the 
sea of light. 

Converse with a mind that is grandly simple, and literature looks 
like word-catching. The simplest utterances are worthiest to be writ- 
ten, yet are they so cheap and so things of course, that in the infinite 
riches of the soul it is like gathering a few pebbles o(T the ground, or 
bottling a little air in a phial, when the whole earth and the whole 
atmosphere are ours. The mere author in such society is like a pick- 
pocket among gentlemen, who has come in to steal a gold button or 
a pin. Nothing can pass there, or make you one of the circle, but the 
casting aside your trappings and dealing man to man in naked truth, 
plain confession and omniscient affirmation. 

Souls such as these treat you as gods would, walk as gods in the 



146 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

earth, accepting without any admiration your wit, your bounty, your 
virtue even, say rather your act of duty, for your virtue they own as 
their proper blood, royal as themselves, and overroyal, and the father 
of the gods. But what rebuke their plain fraternal bearing casts on 
the mutual flattery with which authors solace each other and wound 
themselves! These flatter not. I do not wonder that these men go to 
see Cromwell and Christina and Charles the II. and James I. and the 
Grand Turk. For they are, in their own elevation, the fellows of 
kings, and must feel the servile tone of conversation in the world. 
They must always be a godsend to princes, for they confront them, a 
king to a king, without ducking or concession, and give a high 
nature the refreshment and satisfaction of resistance, of plain 
humanity, of even companionship and of new ideas. They leave 
them wiser and superior men. Souls like these make us feel that 
sincerity is more excellent than flattery. Deal so plainly with man 
and woman as to constrain the utmost sincerity and destroy all hop)e 
of trifling with you. It is the highest compliment you can pay. Their 
"highest praising," said Milton, "is not flattery, and their plainest 
advice is a kind of praising." 

Ineffable is the union of man and God in every act of the soul. 
The simplest person who in his integrity worships God, becomes 
God; yet for ever and ever the influx of this better and universal self 
is new and unsearchable. Ever it inspires awe and astonishment. 
How dear, how soothing to man, arises the idea of God, peopling 
the lonely place, effacing the scars of our mistakes and disappoint- 
ments! When we have broken our god of tradition and ceased from 
our god of rhetoric, then may God fire the heart with his presence. 
It is the doubling of the heart itself, nay, the infinite enlargement of 
the heart with a power of growth to a new infinity on every side. It 
inspires in man an infallible trust. He has not the conviction, but 
the sight, that the best is the true, and may in that thought easily 
dismiss all particular uncertainties and fears, and adjourn to the sure 
revelation of time the solution of his private riddles. He is sure that 
his welfare is dear to the heart of being. In the presence of law to his 
mind he is overflowed with a reliance so universal that it sweeps 
away all cherished hopes and the most stable projects of mortal con- 
dition in its flood. He believes that he cannot escape from his good. 
The things that are really for thee gravitate to thee. You are running 



THE OVER-SOUL 1 47 

to seek your friend. Let your feet run, but your mind need not. If 
you do not find him, will you not acquiesce that it is best you should 
not find him? for there is a power, which as it is in you, is in him 
also, and could therefore very well bring you together, if it were for 
the best. You are preparing with eagerness to go and render a service 
to which your talent and your taste invite you, the love of men and 
the hope of fame. Has it not occurred to you that you have no right 
to go, unless you are equally willing to be prevented from going? 
O, believe, as thou livest, that every sound that is spoken over the 
round world, which thou oughtest to hear, will vibrate on thine ear. 
Every proverb, every book, every by-word that belongs to thee for 
aid or comfort, shall surely come home through open or winding 
passages. Every friend whom not thy fantastic will but the great 
and tender heart in thee craveth, shall lock thee in his embrace. And 
this because the heart in thee is the heart of all; not a valve, not a 
wall, not an intersection is there anywhere in nature, but one blood 
rolls uninterruptedly an endless circulation through all men, as the 
water of the globe is all one sea, and, truly seen, its tide is one. 

Let men then learn the revelation of all nature and all thought to 
his heart; this, namely; that the Highest dwells with him; that the 
sources of nature are in his own mind, if the sentiment of duty is 
there. But if he would know what the great God speaketh, he must 
"go into his closet and shut the door," as Jesus said. God will not 
make himself manifest to cowards. He must greatly listen to himself, 
withdrawing himself from all the accents of other men's devotion. 
Their prayers even are hurtful to him, until he have made his own. 
Our religion vulgarly stands on numbers of believers. Whenever 
the appeal is made, — no matter how indirectly, — to numbers, pro- 
clamation is then and there made that religion is not. He that finds 
God a sweet enveloping thought to him never counts his company. 
When I sit in that presence, who shall dare to come in? When I 
rest in perfect humility, when I burn with pure love, what can 
Calvin or Swedenborg say? 

It makes no difference whether the appeal is to numbers or to one. 
The faith that stands on authority is not faith. The reliance on 
authority measures the decline of religion, the withdrawal of the soul. 
The position men have given to Jesus, now for many centuries of 
history, is a position of authority. It characterizes themselves. It 



148 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

cannot alter the eternal facts. Great is the soul, and plain. It is no 
flatterer, it is no follower; it never appeals from itself. It always 
believes in itself. Before the immense possibilities of man all mere 
experience, all past biography, however spotless and sainted, shrinks 
away. Before that holy heaven which our presentiments foreshow 
us, we cannot easily praise any form of life we have seen or read of. 
We not only affirm that we have few great men, but, absolutely 
speaking, that we have none; that we have no history, no record of 
any character or mode of living that entirely contents us. The saints 
and demigods whom history worships we are constrained to accept 
with a grain of allowance. Though in our lonely hours we draw a 
new strength out of their memory, yet, pressed on our attention, as 
they are by the thoughtless and customary, they fatigue and invade. 
The soul gives itself, alone, original and pure, to the Lonely, Original 
and Pure, who, on that condition, gladly inhabits, leads and speaks 
through it. Then is it glad, young and nimble. It is not wise, but 
it sees through all things. It is not called religious, but it is innocent. 
It calls the light its own, and feels that the grass grows and the stone 
falls by a law inferior to, and dependent on, its nature. Behold, it 
saith, I am born into the great, the universal mind. I, the imperfect, 
adore my own Perfect. I am somehow receptive of the great soul, 
and thereby I do overlook the sun and the stars and feel them to be 
but the fair accidents and effects which change and pass. More and 
more the surges of everlasting nature enter into me, and I become 
public and human in my regards and actions. So come I to live in 
thoughts and act with energies which are immortal. Thus revering 
the soul, and learning, as the ancients said, that "its beauty is im- 
mense," man will come to see that the world is the perennial miracle 
which the soul worketh, and be less astonished at particular wonders; 
he will learn that there is no profane history; that all history is 
sacred; that the universe is represented in an atom, in a moment of 
time. He will weave no longer a spotted life of shreds and patches, 
but he will live with a divine unity. He will cease from what is base 
and frivolous in his own life and be content with all places and any 
service he can render. He will calmly front the morrow in the 
negligency of that trust which carries God with it and so hath 
already the whole future in the bottom of the heart. 



CIRCLES 

(1841) 

THE eye is the first circle; the horizon which it forms is the 
second; and throughout nature this primary picture is re- 
peated without end. It is the highest emblem in the cipher 
of the world. St. Augustine described the nature of God as a circle 
whose centre was everywhere and its circumference nowhere. We 
are all our lifetime reading the copious sense of this first of forms. 
One moral we have already deduced in considering the circular or 
compensatory character of every human action. Another analogy we 
shall now trace, that every action admits of being outdone. Our life 
is an apprenticeship to the truth that around every circle another can 
be drawn; that there is no end in nature, but every end is a begin- 
ning; that there is always another dawn risen on mid-noon, and 
under every deep a lower deep opens. 

This fact, as far as it symbolizes the moral fact of the Unattainable, 
the flying Perfect, around which the hands of man can never meet, 
at once the inspirer and the condemner of every success, may con- 
veniently serve us to connect many illustrations of human power in 
every department. 

There are no fixtures in nature. The universe is fluid and volatile. 
Permanence is but a word of degrees. Our globe seen by God is a 
transparent law, not a mass of facts. The law dissolves the fact and 
holds it fluid. Our culture is the predominance of an idea which 
draws after it all this train of cities and institutions. Let us rise into 
another idea; they will disappear. The Greek sculpture is all melted 
away, as if it had been statues of ice: here and there a solitary figure 
or fragment remaining, as we see flecks and scraps of snow left in 
cold dells and mountain clefts in June and July. For the genius that 
created it creates now somewhat else. The Greek letters last a little 
longer, but are already passing under the same sentence and tumbling 

149 



150 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

into the inevitable pit which the creation of new thought opens for 
all that is old. The new continents are built out of the ruins of an 
old planet; the new races fed out of the decomposition of the forego- 
ing. New arts destroy the old. See the investment of capital in aque- 
ducts, made useless by hydraulics; fortifications, by gunpowder; 
roads and canals, by railways; sails, by steam; steam, by electricity. 

You admire this tower of granite, weathering the hurts of so many 
ages. Yet a little waving hand built this huge wall, and that which 
builds is better than that which is built. The hand that built can 
topple it down much faster. Better than the hand and nimbler was 
the invisible thought which wrought through it; and thus ever, 
behind the coarse effect, is a fine cause, which, being narrowly seen, 
is itself the effect of a finer cause. Every thing looks permanent until 
its secret is known. A rich estate appears to women and children a 
firm and lasting fact; to a merchant, one easily created out of any ma- 
terials, and easily lost. An orchard, good tillage, good grounds, seem 
a fixture, like a gold mine, or a river, to a citizen; but to a large 
farmer, not much more fixed than the state of the crop. Nature looks 
provokingly stable and secular, but it has a cause like all the rest; and 
when once I comprehend that, will these fields stretch so immovably 
wide, these leaves hang so individually considerable? Permanence is 
a word of degrees. Every thing is medial. Moons are no more 
bounds to spiritual power than bat-balls. 

The key to every man is his thought. Sturdy and defying though 
he look, he has a helm which he obeys, which is the idea after which 
all his facts are classified. He can only be reformed by showing him 
a new idea which commands his own. The life of man is a self- 
evolving circle, which, from a ring imperceptibly small, rushes on 
all sides outwards to new and larger circles, and that without end. 
The extent to which this generation of circles, wheel without wheel, 
will go, depends on the force or truth of the individual soul. For it is 
the inert effort of each thought, having formed itself into a circular 
wave of circumstance, as for instance an empire, rules of an art, a 
local usage, a religious rite, to heap itself on that ridge and to solidify 
and hem in the life. But if the soul is quick and strong it bursts over 
that boundary on all sides and expands another orbit on the great 
deep, which also runs up into a high wave, with attempt again to 



CIRCLES 151 

Stop and to bind. But the heart refuses to be imprisoned; in its first 
and narrowest pulses it already tends outward with a vast force and 
to immense and innumerable expansions. 

Every ultimate fact is only the first of a new series. Every general 
law only a particular fact of some more general law presently to 
disclose itself. There is no outside, no inclosing wall, no circumfer- 
ence to us. The man finishes his story, — how good! how final! how 
it puts a new face on all things! He fills the sky. Lo, on the other 
side rises also a man and draws a circle around the circle we had 
just pronounced the outline of the sphere. Then already is our first 
speaker not man, but only a first speaker. His only redress is forth- 
with to draw a circle outside of his antagonist. And so men do by 
themselves. The result of to-day, which haunts the mind and cannot 
be escaped, will presently be abridged into a word, and the principle 
that seemed to explain nature will itself be included as one example 
of a bolder generalization. In the thought of to-morrow there is a 
power to upheave all thy creed, all the creeds, all the literatures of the 
nations, and marshal thee to a heaven which no epic dream has yet 
depicted. Every man is not so much a workman in the world as he is 
a suggestion of that he should be. Men walk as prophecies of the 
next age. 

Step by step we scale this mysterious ladder; the steps are actions, 
the new prospect is power. Every several result is threatened and 
judged by that which follows. Every one seems to be contradicted 
by the new; it is only limited by the new. The new statement is 
always hated by the old, and, to those dwelling in the old, comes 
like an abyss of scepticism. But the eye soon gets wonted to it, for 
the eye and it are effects of one cause; then its innocency and benefit 
app>ear, and presently, all its energy spent, it pales and dwindles 
before the revelation of the new hour. 

Fear not the new generalization. Does the fact look crass and 
material, threatening to degrade thy theory of spirit? Resist it not; 
it goes to refine and raise thy theory of matter just as much. 

There are no fixtures to men, if we appeal to consciousness. Every 
man supposes himself not to be fully understood; and if there is 
any truth in him, if he rests at last on the diviae soul, I see not how it 
can be otherwise. The last chamber, the last closet, he must feel was 



152 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

never opened; there is always a residuum unknown, unanalyzable. 
That is, every man believes that he has a greater possibility. 

Our moods do not believe in each other. To-day I am full of 
thoughts and can write what I please. I see no reason why I should 
not have the same thought, the same power of expression, to-morrow. 
What I write, whilst I write it, seems the most natural thing in the 
world: but yesterday I saw a dreary vacuity in this direction in which 
now I see so much; and a month hence, I doubt not, I shall wonder 
who he was that wrote so many continuous pages. Alas for this 
infirm faith, this will not strenuous, this vast ebb of a vast flowl I am 
God in nature; I am a weed by the wall. 

The continual effort to raise himself above himself, to work a pitch 
above his last height, betrays itself in a man's relations. We thirst 
for approbation, yet cannot forgive the approver. The sweet of 
nature is love; yet if I have a friend I am tormented by my imperfec- 
tions. The love of me accuses the other party. If he were high 
enough to slight me, then could I love him, and rise by my affection 
to new heights. A man's growth is seen in the successive choirs of his 
friends. For every friend whom he loses for truth, he gains a better. 
I thought as I walked in the woods and mused on my friends, why 
should I play with them this game of idolatry? I know and see too 
well, when not voluntarily blind, the speedy limits of persons called 
high and worthy. Rich, noble and great they are by the liberality of 
our sf)eech, but truth is sad. O blessed Spirit, whom I forsake for 
these, they are not thee! Every personal consideration that we allow 
costs us heavenly state. We sell the thrones of angels for a short and 
turbulent pleasure. 

How often must we learn this lesson? Men cease to interest us 
when we find their limitations. The only sin is limitation. As soon 
as you once come up with a man's limitations, it is all over with him. 
Has he talents? has he enterprises? has he knowledge? It boots not. 
Infinitely alluring and attractive was he to you yesterday, a great 
hope, a sea to swim in; now, you have found his shores, found it a 
pond, and you care not if you never see it again. 

Each new step we take in thought reconciles twenty seemingly 
discordant facts, as expressions of one law. Aristotle and Plato are 
reckoned the respective heads of two schools. A wise man will see 



CIRCLES 153 

that Aristotle Platonizes. By going one step farther back in thought, 
discordant opinions are reconciled by being seen to be two extremes 
of one principle, and we can never go so far back as to preclude a 
still higher vision. 

Beware when the great God lets loose a thinker on this planet. 
Then all things are at risk. It is as when a conflagration has broken 
out in a great city, and no man knows what is safe, or where it will 
end. There is not a piece of science but its flank may be turned to- 
morrow; there is not any literary reputation, not the so<alled eternal 
names of fame, that may not be revised and condemned. The very 
hopes of man, the thoughts of his heart, the religion of nations, the 
manner and morals of mankind are all at the mercy of a new gener- 
alization. GeneraUzation is always a new influx of the divinity into 
the mind. Hence the thrill that attends it. 

Valor consists in the power of self-recovery, so that a man cannot 
have his flank turned, cannot be out-generalled, but put him where 
you will, he stands. This can only be by his preferring truth to his 
past apprehension of truth, and his alert acceptance of it from what- 
ever quarter; the intrepid conviction that his laws, his relations to 
society, his Christianity, his world, may at any time be superseded and 
decease. 

There are degrees in idealism. We learn first to play with it aca- 
demically, as the magnet was once a toy. Then we see in the heyday 
of youth and poetry that it may be true, that it is true in gleams and 
fragments. Then, its countenance waxes stern and grand, and we see 
that it must be true. It now shows itself ethical and practical. We 
learn that God is; that he is in me; and that all things are shadows 
of him. The idealism of Berkeley is only a crude statement of the 
idealism of Jesus, and that again is a crude statement of the fact 
that all nature is the rapid efflux of goodness executing and organiz- 
ing itself. Much more obviously is history and the state of the world 
at any one time directly dependent on the intellectual classification 
then existing in the minds of men. The things which are dear to 
men at this hour are so on account of the ideas which have emerged 
on their mental horizon, and which cause the present order of things, 
as a tree bears its apples. A new degree of culture would instantly 
revolutionize the entire system of human pursuits. 



154 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

Ckjnversadon is a game of circles. In conversation we pluck up the 
termini which bound the common of silence on every side. The 
parties are not to be judged by the spirit they partake and even ex- 
press under this Pentecost. To-morrow they will have receded from 
this high-water mark. To-morrow you shall find them stooping 
under the old pack-saddles. Yet let us enjoy the cloven flame whilst 
it glows on our walls. When each new speaker strikes a new light, 
emancipates us from the oppression of the last spwaker to oppress us 
with the greatness and exclusiveness of his own thought, then yields 
us to another redeemer, we seem to recover our rights, to become 
men. O, what truths profound and executable only in ages and orbs, 
are supposed in the announcement of every truth! In common hours, 
society sits cold and statuesque. We all stand waiting, empty, — 
knowing, possibly, that we can be full, surrounded by mighty sym- 
bols which are not symbols to us, but prose and trivial toys. Then 
cometh the god and converts the statues into fiery men, and by a flash 
of his eye burns up the veil which shrouded all things, and the mean- 
ing of the very furniture, of cup and saucer, of chair and clock and 
tester, is manifest. The facts which loomed so large in the fogs of 
yesterday, — property, climate, breeding, personal beauty and the like, 
have strangely changed their proportions. All that we reckoned 
settled shakes and rattles; and literatures, cities, climates, religions, 
leave their foundations and dance before our eyes. And yet here 
again see the swift circumscription! Good as is discourse, silence is 
better, and shames it. The length of the discourse indicates the dis- 
tance of thought betwixt the sf)eaker and the hearer. If they were 
at a (perfect understanding in any part, no words would be necessary 
thereon. If at one in all parts, no words would be suffered. 

Literature is a point outside of our hodiernal circle through which 
a new one may be described. The use of literature is to afford us a 
platform whence we may command a view of our present life, a pur- 
chase by which we may move it. We fill ourselves with ancient learn- 
ing, install ourselves the best we can in Greek, in Punic, in Roman 
houses, only that we may wiselier see French, English and American 
houses and modes of living. In like manner we see literature best 
from the midst of wild nature, or from the din of affairs, or from 
a high religion. The field cannot be well seen from within the field. 



CIRCLES 155 

The astronomer must have his diameter of the earth's orbit as a base 
to find the parallax of any star. 

Therefore we value the poet. All the argument and all the wisdom 
is not in the encyclopajdia, or the treatise on metaphysics, or the 
Body of Divinity, but in the sonnet or the play. In my daily work 
I incline to repeat my old steps, and do not believe in remedial force, 
in the power of change and reform. But some Petrarch or Ariosto, 
filled with the new wine of his imagination, writes me an ode or a 
brisk romance, full of daring thought and action. He smites and 
arouses me with his shrill tones, breaks up my whole chain of habits, 
and I open my eye on my own possibilities. He claps wings to the 
sides of all the solid old lumber of the world, and I am capable once 
more of choosing a straight path in theory and practice. 

We have the same need to command a view of the religion of the 
world. We can never see Christianity from the catechism : — from the 
pastures, from a boat in the pond, from amidst the songs of wood- 
birds we possibly may. Cleansed by the elemental light and wind, 
steeped in the sea of beautiful forms which the field offers us, we may 
chance to cast a right glance back upon biography. Christianity is 
rightly dear to the best of mankind; yet was there never a young 
philosopher whose breeding had fallen into the christian church by 
whom that brave text of Paul's was not specially prized, "Then shall 
also the Son be subject unto Him who put all things under him, that 
God may be all in all." Let the claims and virtues of persons be never 
so great and welcome, the instinct of man presses eagerly onward to 
the impersonal and iUimitable, and gladly arms itself against the dog- 
matism of bigots with this generous word out of the book itself. 

The natural world may be conceived of as a system of concentric 
circles, and we now and then detect in nature slight dislocations 
which apprize us that this surface on which we now stand is not 
fixed, but sliding. These manifold tenacious qualities, this chemistry 
and vegetation, these metals and animals, which seem to stand there 
for their own sake, are means and methods only, are words of God, 
and as fugitive as other words. Has the naturalist or chemist learned 
his craft, who has explored the gravity of atoms and the elective 
affinities, who has not yet discerned the deeper law whereof this is 
only a partial or approximate statement, namely that like draws to 



156 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

like, and that the goods which belong to you gravitate to you and 
need not be pursued with pains and cost? Yet is that statement 
approximate also, and not final. Omnipresence is a higher fact. Not 
through subtle subterranean channels need friend and fact be drawn 
to their counterpart, but, rightly considered, these things proceed 
from the eternal generation of the soul. Cause and effect are two 
sides of one fact. 

The same law of eternal procession ranges all that we call the 
virtues, and extinguishes each in the light of a better. The great man 
will not be prudent in the popular sense; all his prudence will be so 
much deduction from his grandeur. But it behoves each to see, when 
he sacrifices prudence, to what god he devotes it; if to ease and pleas- 
ure, he had better be prudent still; if to a great trust, he can well 
spare his mule and panniers who has a winged chariot instead. Geof- 
frey draws on his boots to go through the woods, that his feet may be 
safer from the bite of snakes; Aaron never thinks of such a peril. In 
many years neither is harmed by such an accident. Yet it seems to 
me that with every precaution you take against such an evil you put 
yourself into the power of the evil. I sup^wse that the highest prud- 
ence is the lowest prudence. Is this too sudden a rushing from the 
centre to the verge of our orbit ? Think how many times we shall fall 
back into pitiful calculations before we take up our rest in the great 
sentiment, or make the verge of to-day the new centre. Besides, your 
bravest sentiment is familiar to the humblest men. The poor and 
the low have their way of expressing the last facts of philosophy as 
well as you. "Blessed be nothing" and "The worse things are, the 
better they are" are proverbs which express the transcendentalism of 
common life. 

One man's justice is another's injustice; one man's beauty another's 
ugliness; one man's wisdom another's folly; as one beholds the same 
objects from a higher point of view. One man thinks justice con- 
sists in paying debts, and has no measure in his abhorrence of another 
who is very remiss in this duty and makes the creditor wait tediously. 
But that second man has his own way of looking at things; asks him- 
self which debt must I pay first, the debt to the rich, or the debt to the 
poor? the debt of money, or the debt of thought to mankind, of 
genius to nature ? For you, O broker, there is no other principle but 



CIRCLES 157 

arithmetic. For me, commerce is of trivial import; love, faith, truth 
of character, the aspiration of man, these are sacred; nor can I detach 
one duty, like you, from all other duties, and concentrate my forces 
mechanically on the payment of moneys. Let me live onward; you 
shall find that, though slower, the progress of my character will Uqui- 
date all these debts without injustice to higher claims. If a man 
should dedicate himself to the payment of notes, would not this be 
injustice? Owes he no debt but money? And are all claims on him 
to be postponed to a landlord's or a banker's ? 

There is no virtue which is final; all are initial. The virtues of 
society are vices of the saint. The terror of reform is the discovery 
that we must cast away our virtues, or what we have always esteemed 
such, into the same pit that has consumed our grosser vices. 

Forgive his crimes, forgive his virtues too, 
Those smaller faults, half converts to the right. 

It is the highest power of divine moments that they abolish our 
contritions also. I accuse myself of sloth and unprofitableness day 
by day; but when these waves of God flow into me I no longer 
reckon lost time. I no longer poorly compute my possible achieve- 
ment by what remains to me of the month or the year; for these 
moments confer a sort of omnipresence and omnipotence which asks 
nothing of duration, but sees that the energy of the mind is 
commensurate with the work to be done, without time. 

And thus, O circular philosopher, I hear some reader exclaim, you 
have arrived at a fine pyrrhonism, at an equivalence and indifferency 
of all actions, and would fain teach us that if we are true, forsooth, 
our crimes may be lively stones out of which we shall construct the 
temple of the true God. 

I am not careful to justify myself. I own I am gladdened by seeing 
the predominance of the saccharine principle throughout vegetable 
nature, and not less by beholding in morals that unrestrained inun- 
dation of the principle of good into every chink and hole that selfish- 
ness has left op)en, yea into selfishness and sin itself; so that no evil 
is pure, nor hell itself without its extreme satisfactions. But lest I 
should mislead any when I have my own head and obey my whims, 
let me remind the reader that I am only an experimenter. Do nor. 



158 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

set the least value on what I do, or the least discredit on what I do 
not, as if I pretended to settle any thing as true or false. I unsettle all 
things. No facts are to me sacred; none are profane; I simply experi- 
ment, an endless seeker with no Past at my back. 

Yet this incessant movement and progression which all things 
partake could never become sensible to us but by contrast to some 
principle of fixture or stability in tbe soul. Whilst the eternal genera- 
tion of circles proceeds, the eternal generator abides. That central 
life is somewhat superior to creation, superior to knowledge and 
thought, and contains all its circles. For ever it labors to create a life 
and thought as large and excellent as itself; but in vaia; for that 
which is made instructs how to make a better. 

Thus there is no sleep, no pause, no preservation, but all things 
renew, germinate and spring. Why should we import rags and relics 
into the new hour? Nature abhors the old, and old age seems the 
only disease: all others run into this one. We call it by many names, 
— fever, intemperance, insanity, stupidity and crime: they are all 
forms of old age: they are rest, conservatism, appropriation, inertia; 
not newness, not the way onward. We grizzle every day. I see no 
need of it. Whilst we converse with what is above us, we do not 
grow old, but grow young. Infancy, youth, receptive, aspiring, with 
religious eye looking upward, counts itself nothing and abandons it- 
self to the instruction flowing from all sides. But the man and 
woman of seventy assume to know all; throw up their hope; re- 
nounce aspiration; accept the actual for the necessary and talk down 
to the young. Let them then become organs of the Holy Ghost; let 
them be lovers; let them behold truth; and their eyes are uplifted, 
their wrinkles smoothed, they are perfumed again with hope and 
power. This old age ought not to creep on a human mind. In nature 
every moment is new; the past is always swallowed and forgotten; 
the coming only is sacred. Nothing is secure but life, transition, the 
energizing spirit. No love can be bound by oath or covenant to secure 
it against a higher love. No truth so sublime but it may be trivial 
to-morrow in the light of new thoughts. People wish to be settled: 
only as far as they are unsettled is there any hope for them. 

Life is a series of surprises. We do not guess to-day the mood, the 
pleasure, the power of to-morrow, when we are building up our 



CIRCLES 159 

being. Of lower states, — of acts of routine and sense, we can tell 
somewhat, but the masterpieces of God, the total growths and uni- 
versal movements of the soul, he hideth; they are incalculable. I can 
know that truth is divine and helpful; but how it shall help me I 
can have no guess, for so to be is the sole inlet of so to know. The 
new position of the advancing man has all the powers of the old, yet 
has them all new. It carries in its bosom all the energies of the past, 
yet is itself an exhalation of the morning. I cast away in this new 
moment all my once hoarded knowledge, as vacant and vain. Now 
for the first time seem I to know any thing rightly. The simplest 
words, — we do not know what they mean except when we love and 
aspire. 

The difference between talents and character is adroitness to keep 
the old and trodden round, and power and courage to make a new 
road to new and better goals. Character makes an overpowering 
present, a cheerful, determined hour, which fortifies all the company 
by making them see that much is possible and excellent that was not 
thought of. Character dulls the impression of particular events. 
When we see the conqueror we do not think much of any one battle 
or success. We see that we had exaggerated the difficulty. It was easy 
to him. The great man is not convulsible or tormentable. He is so 
much that events pass over him without much impression. People 
say sometimes, "See what I have overcome; see how cheerful I am; 
see how completely I have triumphed over these black events." Not 
if they still remind me of the black event, — they have not yet con- 
quered. Is it conquest to be a gay and decorated sepulchre, or a half- 
crazed widow, hysterically laughing? True conquest is the causing 
the black event to fade and disappear as an early cloud of insignifi- 
cant result in a history so large and advancing. 

The one thing which we seek with insatiable desire is to forget 
ourselves, to be surprised out of our propriety, to lose our sempiternal 
memory and to do something without knowing how or why; in 
short to draw a new circle. Nothing great was ever achieved without 
enthusiasm. The way of life is wonderful. It is by abandonment. 
The great moments of history are the facilities of performance 
through the strength of ideas, as the works of genius and religion. 
"A man," said Oliver Cromwell, "never rises so high as when he 



l6o RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

knows not whither he is going." Dreams and drunkenness, the use 
of opium and alcohol are the semblance and counterfeit of this 
oracular genius, and hence their dangerous attraction for men. For 
the like reason they ask the aid of wild passions, as in gaming and 
war, to ape in some manner these flames and generosities of the 
heart. 



THE POET 

(1844) 

A moody child and wildly wise 

Pursued the game with joyful eyes, 

Which chose, like meteors, their way, 

And rived the dark with private ray: 

They overleapt the horizon's edge. 

Searched with Apollo's privilege; 

Through man, and woman, and sea, and star. 

Saw the dance of nature forward far; 

Through worlds, and races, and terms, and times. 

Saw musical order, and pairing rhymes. 



Olympian bards who sung 
Divine ideas below, 
Which always find us young. 
And always keep us so. 

THOSE who are esteemed umpires of taste, are often persons 
who have acquired some knowledge of admired pictures or 
sculptures, and have an inclination for whatever is elegant; 
but if you inquire whether they are beautiful souls, and whether 
their own acts are like fair pictures, you learn that they are selfish and 
sensual. Their cultivation is local, as if you should rub a log of dry 
wood in one spot to produce fire, all the rest remaining cold. Their 
knowledge of the fine arts is some study of rules and particulars, or 
some limited judgment of color or form, which is exercised for 
amusement or for show. It is a proof of the shallowness of the doc- 
trine of beauty, as it lies in the minds of our amateurs, that men seem 
to have lost the perception of the instant dependence of form upon 
soul. There is no doctrine of forms in our philosophy. We were put 
into our bodies, as fire is put into a pan, to be carried about; but there 
is no accurate adjustment between the spirit and the organ, much less 
is the latter the germination of the former. So in regard to other 

161 



1 62 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

forms, the intellectual men do not believe in any essential dependence 
of the material world on thought and volition. Theologians think 
it a pretty air<astle to talk of the spiritual meaning of a ship or a 
cloud, of a city or a contract, but they prefer to come again to the 
solid ground of historical evidence; and even the poets are contented 
with a civil and conformed manner of living, and to write poems 
from the fancy, at a safe distance from their own experience. But 
the highest minds of the world have never ceased to explore the 
double meaning, or, shall I say, the quadruple, or the centuple, or 
much more manifold meaning, of every sensuous fact: Orpheus, 
Empedocles, Herachtus, Plato, Plutarch, Dante, Swedenborg, and 
the masters of sculpture, picture, and jxjetry. For we are not pans 
and barrows, nor even porters of the fire and torch-bearers, but chil- 
dren of the fire, made of it, and only the same divinity transmuted, 
and at two or three removes, when we know least about it. And 
this hidden truth, that the fountains whence all this river of Time, 
and its creatures, floweth, are intrinsically ideal and beautiful, draws 
us to the consideration of the nature and functions of the Poet, or the 
man of Beauty, to the means and materials he uses, and to the general 
aspect of the art in the present time. 

The breadth of the problem is great, for the poet is representative. 
He stands among partial men for the complete man, and apprises 
us not of his wealth, but of the commonwealth. The young man 
reveres men of genius, because, to speak truly, they are more him- 
self than he is. They receive of the soul as he also receives, but they 
more. Nature enhances her beauty, to the eye of loving men, from 
their belief that the poet is beholding her shows at the same time. He 
is isolated among his contemporaries, by truth and by his art, but 
with this consolation in his pursuits, that they will draw all men 
sooner or later. For all men Uve by truth, and stand in need of 
expression. In love, in art, in avarice, in politics, in labor, in games, 
we study to utter our painful secret. The man is only half himself, 
the other half is his expression. 

Notwithstanding this necessity to be published, adequate expres- 
sion is rare. I know not how it is that we need an interpreter: but 
the great majority of men seem to be minors, who have not yet come 
into possession of their own, or mutes, who cannot report the conver- 



THE POET 163 

sation they have had with nature. There is no man who does not 
anticipate a supersensual utility in the sun, and stars, earth, and 
water. These stand and wait to render him a pecuhar service. But 
there is some obstruction, or some excess of phlegm in our constitu- 
tion, which does not suffer them to yield the due effect. Too feeble 
fall the impressions of nature on us to make us artists. Every touch 
should thrill. Every man should be so much an artist, that he could 
report in conversation what had befallen him. Yet, in our experience, 
the rays or appulses have sufficient force to arrive at the senses, but 
not enough to reach the quick, and compel the reproduction of 
themselves in speech. The poet is the person in whom these powers 
are in balance, the man without impediment, who sees and handles 
that which others dream of, traverses the whole scale of experience, 
and its representative of man, in virtue of being the largest power to 
receive and to impart. 

For the Universe has three children, born at one time, which reap- 
pear, under different names, in every system of thought, whether they 
be called cause, operation, and effect; or, more poetically, Jove, Pluto, 
Neptune; or, theologically, the Father, the Spirit, and the Son; but 
which we will call here, the Knower, the Doer, and the Sayer. These 
stand respectively for the love of truth, for the love of good, and 
for the love of beauty. These three are equal. Each is that which he 
is essentially, so that he cannot be surmounted or analyzed, and each 
of these three has the power of the others latent in him, and his own 
patent. 

The poet is the sayer, the namer, and represents beauty. He is a 
sovereign, and stands on the centre. For the world is not painted, or 
adorned, but is from the beginning beautiful; and God has not made 
some beautiful things, but Beauty is the creator of the universe. 
Therefore the poet is not any permissive potentate, but is emperor in 
his own right. Criticism is infested with a cant of materialism, which 
assumes that manual skill and activity is the first merit of all men, 
and disparages such as say and do not, overlooking the fact, that 
some men, namely, poets, are natural sayers, sent into the world to 
the end of expression, and confounds them with those whose prov- 
ince is action, but who quit it to imitate the sayers. But Homer's 
words are as costly and admirable to Homer, as Agamemnon's 



164 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

victories are to Agamemnon. The poet does not wait for the hero 
or the sage, but, as they act and think primarily, so he writes 
primarily what will and must be spoken, reckoning the others, 
though primaries also, yet, in respect to him, secondaries and 
servants; as sitters or models in the studio of a painter, or as as- 
sistants who bring building materials to an architect. 

For [X)etry was all written before time was, and whenever we are 
so finely organized that we can penetrate into that region where the 
air is music, we hear those primal warblings, and attempt to write 
them down, but we lose ever and anon a word, or a verse, and sub- 
stitute something of our own, and thus miswrite the poem. The men 
of more delicate ear write down these cadences more faithfully, and 
these transcripts, though imperfect, become the songs of the nations. 
For nature is as truly beautiful as it is good, or as it is reasonable, and 
must as much appear, as it must be done, or be known. Words and 
deeds are quite indifferent modes of the divine energy. Words are 
also actions, and actions are a kind of words. 

The sign and credentials of the f)oet are, that he announces that 
which no man foretold. He is the true and only doctor; he knows 
and tells; he is the only teller of news, for he was present and privy 
to the appearance which he describes. He is a beholder of ideas, and 
an utterer of the necessary and causal. For we do not speak now of 
men of poetical talents, or of industry and skill in metre, but of the 
true poet. I took part in a conversation the other day, concerning a 
recent writer of lyrics, a man of subtle mind, whose head apf)eared 
to be a music-box of delicate tunes and rhythms, and whose skill, 
and command of language, we could not sufficiently praise. But 
when the question arose, whether he was not only a lyrist, but a poet, 
we were obliged to confess that he is plainly a contemporary, not an 
eternal man. He does not stand out of our low limitations, like a 
Chimborazo under the line, running up from the torrid base through 
all the climates of the globe, with belts of the herbage of every lati- 
tude on its high and mottled sides; but this genius is the landscape- 
garden of a modern house, adorned with fountains and statues, with 
well-bred men and women standing and sitting in the walks and 
terraces. We hear, through all the varied music, the ground-tone of 
conventional life. Our poets are men of talents who sing, and not 



THE POET 165 

the children of music. The argument is secondary, the finish of the 
verses is primary. 

For it is not metres, but a metre-making argument, that makes a 
poem, — a thought so passionate and aUve, that, hke the spirit of a 
plant or an animal, it has an architecture of its own, and adorns na- 
ture with a new thing. The thought and the form are equal in the 
order of time, but in the order of genesis the thought is prior to the 
form. The poet has a new thought : he has a whole new experience to 
unfold; he will tell us how it was with him, and all men will be the 
richer in his fortune. For, the experience of each new age requires a 
new confession, and the world seems always waiting for its poet, I 
remember, when I was young, how much I was moved one morning 
by tidings that genius had appeared in a youth who sat near me at 
table. He had left his work, and gone rambling none knew whither, 
and had written hundreds of lines, but could not tell whether that 
which was in him was therein told: he could tell nothing but that 
all was changed, — man, beast, heaven, earth, and sea. How gladly we 
hstened! how credulous! Society seemed to be compromised. We 
sat in the aurora of a sunrise which was to put out all the stars. Bos- 
ton seemed to be at twice the distance it had the night before, or was 
much farther than that. Rome, — what was Rome? Plutarch and 
Shakspeare were in the yellow leaf, and Homer no more should be 
heard of. It is much to know that poetry has been written this very 
day, under this very roof by your side. What! that wonderful spirit 
has not expired! these stony moments are still sparkling and ani- 
mated! 1 had fancied that the oracles were all silent, and nature had 
spent her fires, and behold! all night, from every pore, these fine 
auroras have been streaming. Every one has some interest in the 
advent of the poet, and no one knows how much it may concern him. 
We know that the secret of the world is profound, but who or what 
shall be our interpreter, we know not. A mountain ramble, a new 
style of face, a new person, may put the key into our hands. Of 
course, the value of genius to us is in the veracity of its report. Talent 
may frolic and juggle; genius realizes and adds. Mankind, in good 
earnest, have availed so far in understanding themselves and theij 
work, that the foremost watchman on the peak announces his news. 
It is the truest word ever spoken, and the phrase will be the fittest. 



1 66 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

most musical, and the unerring voice of the world for that time. 

All that we call sacred history attests that the birth of a poet is the 
principal event in chronology. Man, never so often deceived, still 
watches for the arrival of a brother who can hold him steady to a 
truth, until he has made it his own. With what joy I begin to read a 
poem, which I confide in as an inspiration. And now my chains are 
to be broken; I shall mount above these clouds and opaque airs in 
which I live, — opaque, though they seem transparent, — and from 
the heaven of truth I shall see and comprehend my relations. That 
will reconcile me to life, and renovate nature, to see trifles animated 
by a tendency, and to know what I am doing. Life will no more be 
a noise; now I shall see men and women, and know the signs by 
which they may be discerned from fools and satans. This day shall 
be better than my birthday: then I became an animal: now I am 
invited into the science of the real. Such is the hope, but the fruition 
is postponed. Oftener it falls, that this winged man, who will carry 
me into the heaven, whirls me into the clouds, then leaps and frisks 
about with me from cloud to cloud, still affirming that he is bound 
heavenward; and I, being myself a novice, and slow in perceiving 
that he does not know the way into the heavens, and is merely bent 
that I should admire his skill to rise, like a fowl or a flying fish, a little 
way from the ground or the water; but the all-piercing, all-feeding, 
and ocular air of heaven, that man shall never inhabit. I tumble 
down again soon into my old nooks, and lead the life of exaggera- 
tions as before, and have lost my faith in the possibility of any guide 
who can lead me thither where I would be. 

But leaving these victims of vanity, let us, with new hope, observe 
how nature, by worthier impulses, has ensured the poet's fidelity to 
his office of announcement and affirming, namely, by the beauty of 
things, which becomes a new, and higher beauty, when expressed. 
Nature offers all her creatures to him as a picture-language. Being 
used as a type, a second wonderful value appears in the object, far 
better than its old value, as the carpenter's stretched cord, if you 
hold your ear close enough, is musical in the breeze. 

"Things more excellent than every image," says Jamblichus, "are 
expressed through images." Things admit of being used as sym- 
bols, because nature is a symbol, in the whole, and in every part. 



THE POET 167 

Every line we can draw in the sand, has expression; and there is 
no body without its spirit of genius. All form is an effect of char- 
acter; all condition, of the quality of life; all harmony, of health; 
(and for this reason, a perception of beauty should be sympathetic, 
or proper only to the good). The beautiful rests on the foundations 
of the necessary. The soul makes the body, as the wise Spenser 
teaches: — 

So every spirit, as it is most pure, 
And hath in it the more of heavenly light, 
So it the fairer body doth procure 
To habit in, and it more fairly dight, 
With cheerful grace and amiable sight. 
For, of the soul, the body form doth take. 
For soul is form, and doth the body make. 

Here we find ourselves, suddenly, not in a critical speculation, but 
in a holy place, and should go very warily and reverently. We 
stand before the secret of the world, there where Being passes 
into Appearance, and Unity into Variety. 

The Universe is the externization of the soul. Wherever the life 
is, that bursts into appearance around it. Our science is sensual, 
and therefore superficial. The earth, and the heavenly bodies, phys- 
ics, and chemistry, we sensually treat, as if they were self -existent; 
but these are the retinue of that Being we have. "The mighty 
heaven," said Proclus, "exhibits, in its transfigurations, clear images 
of the splendor of intellectual perceptions; being moved in conjunc- 
tion with the unapparent periods of intellectual natures." Therefore, 
science always goes abreast with the just elevation of the man, keep- 
ing step with religion and metaphysics; or, the state of science is an 
index of our self-knowledge. Since every thing in nature answers 
to a moral power, if any phenomenon remains brute and dark, it is 
that the corresponding faculty in the observer is not yet active. 

No wonder, then, if these waters be so deep, that we hover over 
them with a religious regard. The beauty of the fable proves the 
importance of the sense; to the poet, and to all others; or if you 
please, every man is so far a poet as to be susceptible of these en- 
chantments of nature: for all men have the thoughts whereof the 
universe is the celebration. I find that the fascination resides in the 



1 68 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

symbol. Who loves nature? Who does not? Is it only poets, and 
men of leisure and cultivation, who live with her? No; but also 
hunters, farmers, grooms, and butchers, though they express their 
affection in their choice of life, and not in their choice of words. 
The writer wonders what the coachman or the hunter values in 
riding, in horses, and dogs. It is not superficial qualities. When 
you talk with him, he holds these at as slight a rate as you. His 
worship is sympathetic; he has no definitions, but he is commanded 
in nature, by the living power which he feels to be there present. 
No imitation, or playing of these things, would content him; he 
loves the earnest of the north wind, of rain, of stone, and wood, and 
iron. A beauty not explicable, is dearer than a beauty which we can 
see to the end of. It is nature the symbol, nature certifying the super- 
natural, body overflowed by life, which he worships, with coarse, 
but sincere rites. 

The inwardness and mystery of this attachment, drives men of 
every class to the use of emblems. The schools of p)oets, and philos- 
ophers, are not more intoxicated with their symbols, than the popu- 
lace with theirs. In our political parties, compute the power of 
badges and emblems. See the great ball which they roll from 
Baltimore to Bunker Hill! In the political processions, Lowell goes 
in a loom, and Lynn in a shoe, and Salem in a ship. Witness the 
cider-barrel, the log cabin, the hickory-stick, the palmetto, and all 
the cognizances of party. See the power of national emblems. Some 
stars, lilies, leopards, a crescent, a lion, an eagle, or other figure, 
which came into credit God knows how, on an old rag of bunting, 
blowing in the wind, on a fort, at the ends of the earth, shall make 
the blood tingle under the rudest, or the most conventional exterior. 
The people fancy they hate poetry, and they are all poets and 
mystics! 

Beyond this universality of the symbolic language, we are apprised 
of the divineness of this superior use of things, whereby the world 
is a temple, whose walls are covered with emblems, pictures, and 
commandments of the Deity, in this, that there is no fact in nature 
which does not carry the whole sense of nature; and the distinctions 
which we make in events, and in affairs, of low and high, honest 
and base, disappear when nature is used as a symbol. Thought 



THE POET 169 

makes every thing fit for use. The vocabulary of an omniscient 
man would embrace words and images excluded from f>olite con- 
versation. What would be base, or even obscene, to the obscene, 
becomes illustrious, spoken in a new connection of thought. The 
piety of the Hebrew prophets purges their grossness. The circum- 
cision is an example of the power of poetry to raise the low and 
offensive. Small and mean things serve as well as great symbols. 
The meaner the type by which a law is expressed, the more pungent 
it is, and the more lasting in the memories of men: just as we choose 
the smallest box, or case, in which any needful utensil can be carried. 
Bare lists of words are found suggestive, to an imaginative and 
excited mind; as it is related of Lord Chatham, that he was accus- 
tomed to read in Bailey's Dictionary, when he was preparing to 
speak in Parliament. The poorest experience is rich enough for all 
the purposes of expressing thought. Why covet a knowledge of 
new facts? Day and night, house and garden, a few books, a few 
actions, serve us as well as would all trades and all spectacles. We 
are far from having exhausted the significance of the few symbols 
we use. We can come to use them yet with a terrible simplicity. 
It does not need that a poem should be long. Every word was once 
a poem. Every new relation is a new word. Also, we use defects 
and deformities to a sacred purpose, so expressing our sense that 
the evils of the world are such only to the evil eye. In the old 
mythology, mythologists observe, defects are ascribed to divine 
natures, as lameness to Vulcan, blindness to Cupid, and the like, to 
signify exuberances. 

For, as it is dislocation and detachment from the life of God, that 
makes things ugly, the poet, who re-attaches things to nature and 
the Whole, — re-attaching even artificial things and violations of 
nature, to nature, by a deeper insight — disposes very easily of the 
most disagreeable facts. Readers of poetry see the factory-village, 
and the railway, and fancy that the poetry of the landscape is broken 
up by these; for these works of art are not yet consecrated in their 
readings; but the poet sees them fall within the great Order not less 
than the bee-hive, or the spider's geometrical web. Nature adopts 
them very fast into her vital circles, and the gliding train of cars 
she loves like her own. Besides, in a centred mind, it signifies 



1 70 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

nothing how many mechanical inventions you exhibit. Though you 
add miUions, and never so surprising, the fact of mechanics has 
not gained a grain's weight. The spiritual fact remains unalterable, 
by many or by few particulars; as no mountain is of any appreci- 
able height to break the curve of the sphere. A shrewd country4Kiy 
goes to the city for the first time, and the complacent citizen is not 
satisfied with his little wonder. It is not that he does not see all the 
fine houses, and know that he never saw such before, but he dis- 
poses of them as easily as the poet finds place for the railway. The 
chief value of the new fact, is to enhance the great and constant 
fact of Life, which can dwarf any and every circumstance, and to 
which the belt of wampum, and the commerce of America, are 
alike. 

The world being thus put under the mind for verb and noun, 
the poet is he who can articulate it. For, though life is great, and 
fascinates, and absorbs, — and though all men are intelligent of the 
symbols through which it is named, — yet they cannot originally use 
them. We are symbols, and inhabit symbols; workman, work, and 
tools, words and things, birth and death, all are emblems; but we 
sympathize with the symbols, and, being infatuated with the eco- 
nomical uses of things, we do not know that they are thoughts. 
The poet, by an ulterior intellectual perception, gives them a power 
which makes their old use forgotten, and puts eyes, and a tongue 
into every dumb and inanimate object. He perceives the independ- 
ence of the thought on the symbol, the stability of the thought, 
the accidency and fugacity of the symbol. As the eyes of Lyncacus 
were said to see through the earth, so the poet turns the world to 
glass, and shows us all things in their right series and procession. For, 
through that better perception, he stands one step nearer to things, 
and sees the flowing or metamorphosis; perceives that thought is 
multiform; that within the form of every creature is a force impelling 
it to ascend into a higher form; and, following with his eyes the life, 
uses the forms which express that life, and so his speech flows with 
the flowing of nature. All the facts of the animal economy, sex, 
nutriment, gestation, birth, growth, are symbols of the passage of 
the world into the soul of man, to suffer there a change, and 
reappear a new and higher fact. He uses forms according to the life. 



THE POET 171 

and not according to the form. This is true science. The poet alone 
knows astronomy, chemistry, vegetation, and animation, for he does 
not stop at these facts, but employs them as signs. He knows why 
the plain, or meadow of space, was strown with these flowers we 
call suns, and moons, and stars; why the great deep is adorned 
with animals, with men, and gods; for, in every word he speaks he 
rides on them as the horses of thought. 

By virtue of this science the poet is the Namer, or Language- 
maker, naming things sometimes after their appearance, sometimes 
after their essence, and giving to every one its own name and not 
another's, thereby rejoicing the intellect, which delights in detach- 
ment or boundary. The poets made all the words, and therefore 
language is the archives of history, and, if we must say it, a sort 
of tomb of the muses. For, though the origin of most of our words 
is forgotten, each word was at first a stroke of genius, and obtained 
currency, because for the moment it symbolized the world to the 
first speaker and to the hearer. The etymologist finds the deadest 
word to have been once a brilliant picture. Language is fossil poetry. 
As the limestone of the continent consists of infinite masses of the 
shells of animalcules, so language is made up of images, or tropes, 
which now, in their secondary use, have long ceased to remind us 
of their poetic origin. But the poet names the thing because he sees 
it, or comes one step nearer to it than any other. This expression 
or naming, is not art, but a second nature, grown out of the first, 
as a leaf out of a tree. What we call nature, is a certain self-regu- 
lated motion, or change; and nature does all things by her own 
hands, and does not leave another to baptize her, but baptizes her- 
self; and this through the metamorphosis again. I remember that 
a certain poet described it to me thus: 

Genius is the activity which repairs the decays of things, whether 
wholly or partly of a material and finite kind. Nature through all 
her kingdoms, insures herself. Nobody cares for planting the poor 
fungus: so she shakes down from the gills of one agaric countless 
spores, any one of which, being preserved, transmits new billions of 
spores to-morrow or next day. The new agaric of this hour has a 
chance which the old one had not. This atom of seed is thrown 



172 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

into a new place, not subject to the accidents which destroyed its 
parent two rods off. She makes a man; and having brought him 
to ripe age, she will no longer run the risk of losing this wonder 
at a blow, but she detaches from him a new self, that the kind may 
be safe from accidents to which the individual is exposed. So when 
the soul of the poet has come to ripeness of thought she detaches 
and sends away from it its poems or songs, — a fearless, sleepless, 
deathless progeny, which is not exposed to the accidents of the 
weary kingdom of time: a fearless, vivacious offspring, clad with 
wings (such was the virtue of the soul out of which they came), 
which carry them fast and far, and infix them irrecoverably into the 
hearts of men. These wings are the beauty of the poet's soul. The 
songs, thus flying immortal from their mortal parent, are pursued 
by clamorous flights of censures, which swarm in far greater num- 
bers, and threaten to devour them; but these last are not winged. 
At the end of a very short leap they fall plump down, and rot, 
having received from the souls out of which they came no beautiful 
wings. But the melodies of the poet ascend, and leap, and pierce 
into the deeps of infinite time. 

So far the bard taught me, using his freer speech. But nature has 
a higher end, in the production of new individuals, than security, 
namely, ascension, or the passage of the soul into higher forms. I 
knew, in my younger days, the sculptor who made the statue of the 
youth which stands in the public garden. He was, as I remember, 
unable to tell directly, what made him happy, or unhappy, but 
by wonderful indirections he could tell. He rose one day, according 
to his habit, before the dawn, and saw the morning break, grand 
as the eternity out of which it came, and, for many days after, he 
strove to express this tranquillity, and lo! his chisel had fashioned 
out of marble the form of a beautiful youth. Phosphorus, whose 
aspect is such, that, it is said, all persons who look on it become 
silent. The poet also resigns himself to his mood, and that thought 
which agitated him is expressed, but alter idem in a manner totally 
new. The expression is organic, or, the new tyf)e which things them- 
selves take when liberated. As, in the sun, objects paint their images 
on the retina of the eye, so they, sharing the aspiration of the whole 



THE POET 173 

universe, tend to paint a far more delicate copy o£ their essence in 
his mind. Like the metamorphosis of things into higher organic 
forms, is their change into melodies. Over every thing stands its 
daemon, or soul, and, as the form of the thing is reflected by the eye, 
so the soul of the thing is reflected by a melody. The sea, the 
mountain-ridge, Niagara, and every flower-bed, pre-exist, or super- 
exist, in pre-cantations, which sail like odors in the air, and when 
any man goes by with an ear sufficiently fine, he overhears them, and 
endeavors to write down the notes, without diluting or depraving 
them. And herein is the legitimation of criticism, in the mind's 
faith, that the poems are a corrupt version of some text in nature, 
with which they ought to be made to tally. A rhyme in one of our 
sonnets should not be less pleasing than the iterated nodes of a 
sea-shell, or the resembling difference of a group of flowers. The 
pairing of the birds is an idyl, not tedious as our idyls are; a tempest 
is a rough ode, without falsehood or rant: a summer, with its 
harvest sown, reaped, and stored, is an epic song, subordinating 
how many admirably executed parts. Why should not the sym- 
metry and truth that modulate these, glide into our spirits, and 
we participate the invention of nature? 

This insight, which expresses itself by what is called Imagination, 
is a very high sort of seeing, which does not come by study, but by 
the intellect being where and what it sees, by sharing the path, or 
circuit of things through forms, and making them translucid to 
others. The path of things is silent. Will they suffer a speaker to 
go with them? A spy they will not suffer; a lover, a poet, is the 
transcendency of their own nature, — him they will suffer. The 
condition of true naming, on the poet's part, is his resigning himself 
to the divine aura which breathes through forms, and accompanying 
that. 

It is a secret which every intellectual man quickly learns, that, 
beyond the energy of his possessed and conscious intellect, he is 
capable of a new energy (as of an intellect doubled on itself), by 
abandonment to the nature of things; that, beside his privacy of 
power as an individual man, there is a great public power, on 
which he can draw, by unlocking, at all risks, his human doors, 
and suffering the ethereal tides to roll and circulate through him: 



174 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

then he is caught up into the U£e of the Universe, his speech is 
thunder, his thought is law, and his words are universally intelligible 
as the plants and animals. The poet knows that he speaks ad- 
equately, then, only when he speaks somewhat wildly, or, "with 
the flower of the mind;" not with the intellect, used as an organ, 
but with the intellect released from all service, and suffered to take 
its direction from its celestial life; or, as the ancients were wont to 
express themselves, not with intellect alone, but with the intellect 
inebriated by nectar. As the traveller who has lost his way, throws 
his reins on his horse's neck, and trusts to the instinct of the animal 
to find his road, so must we do with the divine animal who carries 
us through this world. For if in any manner we can stimulate this 
instinct, new passages are opened for us into nature, the mind flows 
into and through things hardest and highest, and the metamorphosis 
is possible. 

This is the reason why bards love wine, mead, narcotics, coffee, 
tea, opium, the fumes of sandalwood and tobacco, or whatever other 
species of animal exhilaration. All men avail themselves of such 
means as they can, to add this extraordinary power to their normal 
powers; and to this end they prize conversation, music, pictures, 
sculpture, dancing, theatres, travelling, war, mobs, fires, gaming, 
politics, or love, or science, or animal intoxication, which are several 
coarser or finer ^«a«'-mechanical substitutes for the true nectar, 
which is the ravishment of the intellect by coming nearer to the 
fact. These are auxiliaries to the centrifugal tendency of a man, to 
his passage out into free space, and they help him to escape the 
custody of that body in which he is pent up, and of that jail-yard 
of individual relations in which he is enclosed. Hence a great num- 
ber of such as were professionally expressors of Beauty, as painters, 
poets, musicians, and actors, have been more than others wont to 
lead a life of pleasure and indulgence; all but the few who received 
the true nectar; and, as it was a spurious mode of obtaining free- 
dom, an emancipation not into the heavens, but into the freedom 
of baser places, they were punished for that advantage they won, by 
a dissipation and deterioration. But never can any advantage be 
taken of nature by a trick. The spirit of the world, the great calm 
presence of the creator, comes not forth to the sorceries of opium 



THE POET 175 

or of wine. The sublime vision comes to the pure and simple soul 
in a clean and chaste body. That is not an inspiration which we 
owe to narcotics, but some counterfeit excitement and fury. Milton 
says, that the lyric poet may drink wine and Uve generously, but the 
epic poet, he who shall sing of the gods, and their descent unto men, 
must drink water out of a wooden bowl. 

For poetry is not "Devil's wine," but God's wine. It is with this 
as it is with toys. We fill the hands and nurseries of our children 
with all manner of dolls, drums, and horses, withdrawing their eyes 
from the plain face and sufficing object of nature, the sun, and moon, 
the animals, the water, and stones, which should be their toys. So 
the poet's habit of living should be set on a key so low and plain, 
that the common influences should dehght him. His cheerfulness 
should be the gift of the sunlight; the air should suffice for his 
inspiration, and he should be tipsy with water. That spirit which 
suffices quiet hearts, which seems to come forth to such from every 
dry knoll of sere grass, from every pine-stump, and half-imbedded 
stone, on which the dull March sun shines, comes forth to the poor 
and hungry, and such as are of simple taste. If thou fill thy brain 
with Boston and New York, with fashion and covetousness, and 
wilt stimulate thy jaded senses with wine and French coffee, thou 
shall find no radiance of wisdom in the lonely waste of the pine- 
woods. 

If the imagination intoxicates the poet, it is not inactive in other 
men. The metamorphosis excites in the beholder an emotion of joy. 

The use of symbols has a certain power of emancipation and 
exhilaration for all men. We seem to be touched by a wand, which 
makes us dance and run about happily, Uke children. We are like 
persons who come out of a cave or cellar into the open air. This is 
the effect on us of tropes, fables, oracles, and all poetic forms. Poets 
are thus liberating gods. Men have really got a new sense, and 
found within their world, another world or nest of worlds; for the 
metamorphosis once seen, we divine that it does not stop. I will 
not now consider how much this makes the charm of algebra and 
the mathematics, which also have their tropes, but it is felt in every 
definition; as, when Aristotle defines space to be an immovable 
vessel, in which things are contained; — or, when Plato defines a 



176 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

line to be a flowing point; or, figure to be a bound of solid; and 
many the like. What a joyful sense of freedom we have, when 
Vitruvius announces the old opinion of artists, that no architect 
can build any house well, who does not know something of anatomy. 
When Socrates, in Charmides, tells us that the soul is cured of its 
maladies by certain incantations, and that these incantations are 
beautiful reasons, from which temperance is generated in souls; 
when Plato calls the world an animal; and Timacus affirms that 
the plants also are animals; or affirms a man to be a heavenly tree, 
growing with his root, which is his head, upward; and, as George 
Chapman, following him, writes, — 

So in our tree of man, whose nervie root 
Springs in his top; 

when Orpheus speaks of hoariness as "that white flower which 
marks extreme old age;" when Proclus calls the universe the statue 
of the intellect; when Chaucer, in his praise of "Gentilesse," com- 
pares good blood in mean condition to fire, which, though carried 
to the darkest house betwixt this and the mount of Caucasus, will 
yet hold its natural office, and burn as bright as if twenty thousand 
men did it behold; when John saw, in the apocalypse, the ruin of the 
world through evil, and the stars fall from heaven, as the figtree 
casteth her untimely fruit; when itsop reports the whole catalogue 
of common daily relations through the masquerade of birds and 
beasts; — we take the cheerful hint of the immortality of our essence, 
and its versatile habit and escapes, as when the gypsies say, "it is 
vain to hang them, they cannot die." 

The poets are thus liberating gods. The ancient British bards had 
for the title of their order, "Those who are free throughout the 
world." They are free, and they make free. An imaginative book 
renders us much more service at first, by stimulating us through 
its tropes, than afterward, when we arrive at the precise sense of 
the author. I think nothing is of any value in books, excepting the 
transcendental and extraordinary. If a man is inflamed and carried 
away by his thought, to that degree that he forgets the authors 
and the public, and heeds only this one dream, which holds him 
like an insanity, let me read his paper, and you may have all the 



THE POET 177 

arguments and histories and criticism. All the value which attaches 
to Pythagoras, Paracelsus, Cornelius Agrippa, Cardan, Kepler, Swe- 
denborg, Schelling, Oken, or any other who introduces questionable 
facts into his cosmogony, as angels, devils, magic, astrology, palm- 
istry, mesmerism, and so on, is the certificate we have of departure 
from routine, and that here is a new witness. That also is the 
best success in conversation, the magic of liberty, which puts the 
world like a ball, in our hands. How cheap even the liberty then 
seems; how mean to study, when an emotion communicates to the 
intellect the power to sap and upheave nature: how great the 
perspective! nations, times, systems, enter and disappear like threads 
in tapestry of large figure and many colors; dream delivers us to 
dream, and, while the drunkenness lasts, we will sell our bed, our 
philosophy, our religion, in our opulence. 

There is good reason why we should prize this liberation. The 
fate of the poor shepherd, who, blinded and lost in the snow-storm, 
perishes in a drift within a few feet of his cottage door, is an 
emblem of the state of man. On the brink of the waters of life and 
truth, we are miserably dying. The inaccessibleness of every thought 
but that we are in, is wonderful. What if you come near to it, — 
you are as remote, when you are nearest, as when you are farthest. 
Every thought is also a prison; every heaven is also a prison. There- 
fore we love the poet, the inventor, who in any form, whether in an 
ode, or in an action, or in looks and behavior, has yielded us a 
new thought. He unlocks our chains, and admits us to a new 
scene. 

This emancipation is dear to all men, and the power to impart it, 
as it must come from greater depth and scope of thought, is a meas- 
ure of intellect. Therefore all books of the imagination endure, all 
which ascend to that truth, that the writer sees nature beneath him, 
and uses it as his exponent. Every verse or sentence, possessing this 
virtue, will take care of its own immortality. The religions of the 
world are the ejaculations of a few imaginative men. 

But the quality of the imagination is to flow, and not to freeze. 
The poet did not stop at the color, or the form, but read their mean- 
ing; neither may he rest in this meaning; but he makes the same 
objects exponents of his new thought. Here is the difference 



178 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

betwixt the poet and the mystic, that the last nails a symbol to one 
sense, which was a true sense for a moment, but soon becomes 
old and false. For all symbols are fluxional; all language is vehic- 
ular and transitive, and is good, as ferries and horses are, for con- 
veyance, not as farms and houses are, for homestead. Mysticism 
consists in the mistake of an accidental and individual symbol for 
an universal one. The morning-redness hapf)ens to be the favorite 
meteor to the eyes of Jacob Behman, and comes to stand to him 
for truth and faith; and he believes should stand for the same 
realities to every reader. But the first reader prefers as naturally 
the symbol of a mother and child, or a gardener and his bulb, or 
a jeweller polishing a gem. Either of these, or of a myriad more, 
are equally good to the person to whom they are significant. Only 
they must be held lightly, and be very willingly translated into the 
equivalent terms which others use. And the mystic must be steadily 
told, — All that you say is just as true without the tedious use of 
that symbol as with it. Let us have a little algebra, instead of this 
trite rhetoric, — universal signs, instead of these village symbols, 
— and we shall both be gainers. The history of hierarchies seems 
to show, that all religious error consisted in making the symbol too 
stark and solid, and, at last, nothing but an excess of the organ of 
language. 

Swedenborg, of all men in the recent ages, stands eminently for 
the translator of nature into thought. I do not know the man in 
history to whom things stood so uniformly for words. Before him 
the metamorphosis continually plays. Every thing on which his 
eye rests, obeys the impulses of moral nature. The figs become 
grapes whilst he eats them. When some of his angels affirmed a 
truth, the laurel twig which they held blossomed in their hands. 
The noise which, at a distance, appeared like gnashing and thump- 
ing, on coming nearer was found to be the voice of disputants. 
The men, in one of his visions, seen in heavenly light, appeared 
like dragons, and seemed in darkness: but, to each other, they 
appeared as men, and, when the light from heaven shone into their 
cabin, they complained of the darkness, and were compelled to shut 
the window that they might see. 

There was this perception in him, which makes the poet or seer, 



THE POET 179 

an object of awe and terror, namely, that the same man, or society 
of men, may wear one aspect to themselves and their companions, 
and a different aspect to higher intelligences. Certain priests, whom 
he describes as conversing very learnedly together, appeared to the 
children, who were at some distance, like dead horses: and many 
the like misappearances. And instantly the mind inquires, whether 
these fishes under the bridge, yonder oxen in the pasture, those 
dogs in the yard, are immutably fishes, oxen, and dogs, or only so 
appear to me, and perchance to themselves appear upright men; 
and whether I appear as a man to all eyes. The Brahmins and 
Pythagoras propounded the same question, and if any poet has wit- 
nessed the transformation, he doubtless found it in harmony with 
various exp)eriences. We have all seen changes as considerable in 
wheat and caterpillars. He is the poet, and shall draw us with love 
and terror, who sees, through the flowing vest, the firm nature, and 
can declare it. 

I look in vain for the poet whom I describe. We do not, with 
sufficient plainness, or sufficient profoundness, address ourselves to 
hfe, nor dare we chant our own times and social circumstance. If 
we filled the day with bravery, we should not shrink from celebrat- 
ing it. Time and nature yield us many gifts, but not yet the timely 
man, the new religion, the reconciler, whom all things await. 
Dante's praise is, that he dared to write his autobiography in colossal 
cipher, or into universality. We have yet had no genius in America, 
with tyrannous eye, which knew the value of our incomparable 
materials, and saw, in the barbarism and materialism of the times, 
another carnival of the same gods whose picture he so much admires 
in Homer; then in the middle age; then in Calvinism. Banks and 
tariffs, the newspaper and caucus, methodism and unitarianism, are 
flat and dull to dull people, but rest on the same foundations of 
wonder as the town of Troy, and the temple of Delphos, and are 
as swiftly passing away. Our logrolling, our stumps and their poli- 
tics, our fisheries, our Negroes, and Indians, our boats, and our re- 
pudiations, the wrath of rogues, and the pusillanimity of honest 
men, the northern trade, the southern planting, the western clearing, 
Oregon, and Texas, are yet unsung. Yet America is a poem in 
our eyes; its ample geography dazzles the imagination, and it will 



l8o RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

not wait long for metres. If I have not found that excellent com- 
bination of gifts in my countrymen which I seek, neither could 
I aid myself to fix the idea of the poet by reading now and then 
in Chalmers's collection of five centuries of English poets. These 
are wits, more than poets, though there have been poets among 
them. But when we adhere to the ideal of the poet, we have our 
difficulties even with Milton and Homer. Milton is too literary, 
and Homer too literal and historical. 

But I am not wise enough for a national criticism, and must see 
the old largeness a little longer, to discharge my errand from the 
muse to the poet concerning his art. 

Art is the path of the creator to his work. The paths, or methods, 
are ideal and eternal, though few men ever see them, not the artist 
himself for years, or for a lifetime, unless he come into the condi- 
tions. The painter, the sculptor, the composer, the epic rhapsodist, 
the orator, all partake one desire, namely, to express themselves 
symmetrically and abundantly, not dwarfishly and fragmentarily. 
They found or put themselves in certain conditions, as, the painter 
and sculptor before some impressive human figures; the orator, into 
the assembly of the people; and the others, in such scenes as each 
has found exciting to his intellect; and each presently feels the new 
desire. He hears a voice, he sees a beckoning. Then he is apprised, 
with wonder, what herds of damons hem him in. He can no more 
rest; he says, with the old painter, "By God, it is in me, and must 
go forth of me." He pursues a beauty, half seen, which flies before 
him. The poet pours out verses in every solitude. Most of the 
things he says are conventional, no doubt; but by and by he says 
something which is original and beautiful. That charms him. He 
would say nothing else but such things. In our way of talking, we 
say, "That is yours, this is mine;" but the poet knows well that it is 
not his; that it is as strange and beautiful to him as to you; he 
would fain hear the like eloquence at length. Once having tasted 
this immortal ichor, he cannot have enough of it, and, as an ad- 
mirable creative power exists in these intellections, it is of the last 
importance that these things get spoken. What a little of all we 
know is said! What drops of all the sea of our science are baled up! 
and by what accident it is that these are exposed, when so many 



THE POET l8l 

secrets sleep in nature! Hence the necessity of speech and song; 
hence these throbs and heart-beatings in the orator, at the door of 
the assembly, to the end, namely, that thought may be ejaculated 
as Logos, or Word. 

Doubt not, O poet, but jjersist. Say, "It is in me, and shall out." 
Stand there, balked and dumb, stuttering and stammering, hissed 
and hooted, stand and strive, until, at last, rage draw out of thee 
that dream-power which every night shows thee is thine own; a 
power transcending all limit and privacy, and by virtue of which 
a man is the conductor of the whole river of electricity. Nothing 
walks, or creeps, or grows, or exists, which must not in turn arise 
and walk before him as exponent of his meaning. Comes he to 
that f)ower, his genius is no longer exhaustible. All the creatures, 
by pairs and by tribes, pour into his mind as into a Noah's ark, to 
come forth again to people a new world. This is like the stock of 
air for our respiration, or for the combustion of our fireplace, not a 
measure of gallons, but the entire atmosphere if wanted. And there- 
fore the rich poets, as Homer, Chaucer, Shakspeare, and Raphael, 
have obviously no limits to their works, except the limits of their 
lifetime, and resemble a mirror carried through the street, ready 
to render an image of every created thing. 

O poet! a new nobility is conferred in groves and pastures, and 
not in castles, or by the sword-blade, any longer. The conditions 
are hard, but equal. Thou shalt leave the world, and know the 
muse only. Thou shalt not know any longer the times, customs, 
graces, politics, or opinions of men, but shalt take all from the 
muse. For the lime of towns is tolled from the world by funereal 
chimes, but in nature the universal hours are counted by succeeding 
tribes of animals and plants, and by growth of joy on joy. God 
wills also that thou abdicate a manifold and duplex life, and that 
thou be content that others speak for thee. Others shall be thy 
gentlemen, and shall represent all courtesy and worldly life for 
thee; others shall do the great and resounding actions also. Thou 
shalt lie close hid with nature, and canst not be afforded to the 
Capitol or the Exchange. The world is full of renunciations and 
apprenticeships, and this is thine: thou must pass for a fool and a 
churl for a long season. This is the screen and sheath in which 



1 82 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

Pan has protected his well-beloved flower, and thou shalt be known 
only to thine own, and they shall console thee with tenderest love. 
And thou shalt not be able to rehearse the names of thy friends in 
thy verse, for an old shame before the holy ideal. And this is the 
reward: that the ideal shall be real to thee, and the impressions of 
the actual world shall fall like summer rain, copious, but not 
troublesome, to thy invulnerable essence. Thou shalt have the whole 
land for thy park and manor, the sea for thy bath and navigation, 
without tax and without envy; the woods and the rivers thou shalt 
own; and thou shalt possess that wherein others are only tenants 
and boarders. Thou true land-lord! sea-lord! air-lord! Wherever 
snow falls, or water flows, or birds fly, wherever day and night 
meet in twilight, wherever the blue heaven is hung by clouds, or 
sown with stars, wherever are forms with transparent boundaries, 
wherever are outlets into celestial space, wherever is danger, and 
awe, and love, there is Beauty, plenteous as rain, shed for thee, 
and though thou shouldest walk the world over, thou shalt not be 
able to find a condition inopportune or ignoble. 



CHARACTER 

(1844) 

The sun set; but set not his hope: 
Stars rose; his faith was earlier up: 
Fixed on the enormous galaxy, 
Deeper and older seemed his eye: 
And matched his sufferance sublime 
The taciturnity of time. 
He spoke, and words more soft than rain 
Brought the Age of Gold again: 
His action won such reverence sweet, 
As hid all measure of the feat. 



Work of his hand 

He nor commends nor grieves: 

Pleads for itself the fact; 

As unrepenting Nature leaves 

Her every act. 

I HAVE read that those who listened to Lord Chatham felt that 
there was something finer in the man, than anything which 
he said. It has been complained of our brilliant English his- 
torian of the French Revolution, that when he has told all his facts 
about Mirabeau, they do not justify his estimate of his genius. 
The Gracchi, Agis, Cleomenes, and others of Plutarch's heroes, do 
not in the record of facts equal their own fame. Sir Philip Sidney, 
the Earl of Essex, Sir Walter Raleigh, are men of great figure, and 
of few deeds. We cannot find the smallest part of the personal 
weight of Washington, in the narrative of his exploits. The author- 
ity of the name of Schiller is too great for his books. This inequality 
of the reputation to the works or the anecdotes is not accounted for 
by saying that the reverberation is longer than the thunder<lap; but 
somewhat resided in these men which begot an expectation that 
outran all their jjerformance. The largest part of their power was 
latent. This is that which we call Character, — ^a reserved force which 

183 



184 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

acts directly by presence, and without means. It is conceived of as 
a certain undemonstrable force, a Familiar or Genius, by whose 
impulses the man is guided, but whose counsels he cannot impart; 
which is company for him, so that such men are often solitary, or 
if they chance to be social, do not need society, but can entertain 
themselves very well alone. The purest literary talent apjjears at 
one time great, at another time small, but character is of a stellar 
and undiminishable greatness. What others effect by talent or by 
eloquence this man accomplishes by some magnetism. "Half his 
strength he put not forth." His victories are by demonstration of 
superiority, and not by crossing of bayonets. He conquers, because 
his arrival alters the face of affairs. " 'O lole! how did you know 
that Hercules was a god?' 'Because,' answered lole, 'I was content 
the moment my eyes fell on him. When I beheld Theseus, I de- 
sired that I might see him offer battle, or at least guide his horses 
in the chariot-race; but Hercules did not wait for a contest; he 
conquered whether he stood, or walked, or sat, or whatever thing 
he did.' " Man, ordinarily a pendant to events, only half attached, 
and that awkwardly, to the world he lives in, in these examples 
appears to share the life of things, and to be an expression of the 
same laws which control the tides and the sun, numbers and quan- 
tities. 

But to use a more modest illustration, and nearer home, I observe, 
that in our political elections, where this element, if it appears at all, 
can only occur in its coarsest form, we sufficiently understand its 
incomparable rate. The people know that they need in their repre- 
sentative much more than talent, namely, the power to make his 
talent trusted. They cannot come at their ends by sending to Con- 
gress a learned, acute, and fluent speaker, if he be not one, who, 
before he was appointed by the people to represent them, was ap- 
pointed by Almighty God to stand for a fact, — invincibly persuaded 
of that fact in himself, — so that the most confident and the most 
violent persons learn that here is resistance on which both impudence 
and terror are wasted, namely, faith in a fact. The men who carry 
their points do not need to inquire of their constituents what they 
should say, but are themselves the country which they represent: 
nowhere are its emotions or opinions so instant and true as in them; 



CHARACTER 1 85 

nowhere so pure from a selfish infusion. The constituency at home 
hearkens to their words, watches the color of their cheek, and there- 
in, as in a glass, dresses its own. Our public assemblies are pretty 
good tests of manly force. Our frank countrymen of the west and 
south have a taste for character, and like to know whether the 
New Englander is a substantial man, or whether the hand can pass 
through him. 

The same motive force appears in trade. There are geniuses in 
trade, as well as in war, or the state, or letters; and the reason why 
this or that man is fortunate, is not to be told. It lies in the man: 
that is all anybody can tell you about it. See him, and you will 
know as easily why he succeeds, as, if you see Napoleon, you would 
comprehend his fortune. In the new objects we recognize the old 
game, the habit of fronting the fact, and not dealing with it at 
second-hand, through the perceptions of somebody else. Nature 
seems to authorize trade, as soon as you see the natural merchant, 
who appears not so much a private agent, as her factor and Minister 
of Commerce. His natural probity combines with his insight into 
the fabric of society, to put him above tricks, and he communicates 
to all his own faith, that contracts are of no private interpretation. 
The habit of his mind is a reference to standards of natural equity 
and public advantage; and he inspires respect, and the wish to deal 
with him, both for the quiet spirit of honor which attends him, 
and for the intellectual pastime which the spectacle of so much 
ability affords. This immensely stretched trade, which makes the 
capes of the Southern Ocean his wharves, and the Atlantic Sea his 
familiar port, centres in his brain only; and nobody in the universe 
can make his place good. In his parlor, I see very well that he has 
been at hard work this morning, with that knitted brow, and that 
settled humor, which all his desire to be courteous cannot shake off. 
I see plainly how many firm acts have been done; how many valiant 
noes have this day been spoken, when others would have uttered 
ruinous yeas. I see, with the pride of art, and skill of masterly 
arithmetic and fx)wer of remote combination, the consciousness of 
being an agent and playfellow of the original laws of the world. 
He too believes that none can supply him, and that a man must 
be born to trade, or he cannot learn it. 



1 86 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

This virtue draws the mind more, when it appears in action to 
ends not so mixed. It works with most energy in the smallest com- 
panies and in private relations. In all cases, it is an extraordinary 
and incomputable agent. The excess of physical strength is para- 
lyzed by it. Higher natures overpower lower ones by affecting them 
with a certain sleep. The faculties are locked up, and offer no 
resistance. Perhaps that is the universal law. When the high cannot 
bring up the low to itself, it benumbs it, as man charms down the 
resistance of the lower animals. Men exert on each other a similar 
occult power. How often has the influence of a true master realized 
all the tales of magic! A river of command seemed to run down 
from his eyes into all those who beheld him, a torrent of strong 
sad light, hke an Ohio or Danube, which pervaded them with his 
thoughts, and colored all events with the hue of his mind. "What 
means did you employ.''" was the question asked of the wife of 
Concini, in regard to her treatment of Mary of Medici; and the 
answer was, "Only that influence which every strong mind has over 
a weak one." Cannot Qesar in irons shuffle of? the irons, and trans- 
fer them to the pierson of Hippo or Thraso the turnkey ? Is an iron 
handcuff so immutable a bond? Suppose a slaver on the coast of 
Guinea should take on board a gang of negroes, which should 
contain persons of the stamp of Toussaint L'Ouverture: or, let us 
fancy, under these swarthy masks he has a gang of Washingtons 
in chains. When they arrive at Cuba, will the relative order of the 
ship's company be the same? Is there nothing but rojje and iron? 
Is there no love, no reverence? Is there never a glimpse of right 
in a poor slave<aptain's mind; and cannot these be supposed avail- 
able to break, or elude, or in any manner overmatch the tension of 
an inch or two of iron ring? 

This is a natural power, like light and heat, and all nature 
cooperates with it. The reason why we feel one man's presence, and 
do not feel another's, is as simple as gravity. Truth is the summit 
of being: justice is the application of it to affairs. All individual 
natures stand in a scale, according to the purity of this element in 
them. The will of the pure runs down from them into other natures, 
as water runs down from a higher into a lower vessel. This natural 
force is no more to be withstood, than any other natural force. We 



CHARACTER 1 87 

can drive a stone upward for a moment into the air, but it is yet 
true that all stones will forever fall; and whatever instances can 
be quoted of unpunished theft, or of a lie which somebody credited, 
justice must prevail, and it is the privilege of truth to make itself 
believed. Character is this moral order seen through the medium 
of an individual nature. An individual is an encloser. Time and 
space, liberty and necessity, truth and thought, are left at large no 
longer. Now, the universe is a close or pound. All things exist in 
the man tinged with the manners of his soul. With what quahty 
is in him, he infuses all nature that he can reach; nor does he 
tend to lose himself in vastness, but, at how long a curve soever, 
all his regards return into his own good at last. He animates all 
he can, and he sees only what he animates. He encloses the world, 
as the patriot does his country, as a material basis for his character, 
and a theatre for action, A healthy soul stands united with the 
Just and the True, as the magnet arranges itself with the pole, so 
that he stands to all beholders like a transparent object betwixt 
them and the sun, and whoso journeys towards the sun, journeys 
towards that jjerson. He is thus the medium of the highest influence 
to all who are not on the same level. Thus men of character are 
the conscience of the society to which they belong. 

The natural measure of this power is the resistance of circum- 
stances. Impure men consider life as it is reflected in opinions, 
events, and persons. They cannot see the action, until it is done. 
Yet its moral element pre-existed in the actor, and its quality as 
right or wrong, it was easy to predict. Everything in nature is 
bipolar, or has a positive and negative pole. There is a male and a 
female, a spirit and a fact, a north and a south. Spirit is the positive, 
the event is the negative. Will is the north, action the south pole. 
Character may be ranked as having its natural place in the north. 
It shares the magnetic currents of the system. The feeble souls are 
drawn to the south or negative pole. They look at the profit or 
hurt of the action. They never behold a principle until it is lodged 
in a person. They do not wish to be lovely, but to be loved. The 
class of character like to hear of their faults: the other class do not 
like to hear of faults; they worship events; secure to them a fact, 
a connection, a certain chain of circumstances, and they will ask 



1 88 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

no more. The hero sees that the event is ancillary: it must follow 
him. A given order of events has no power to secure to him the 
satisfaction which the imagination attaches to it; the soul of good- 
ness escapes from any set of circumstances, whilst prosperity belongs 
to a certain mind, and will introduce that power and victory which 
is its natural fruit, into any order of events. No change of circum- 
stances can repair a defect of character. We boast our emancipation 
from many superstitions; but if we have broken any idols, it is 
through a transfer of the idolatry. What have I gained, that I no 
longer immolate a bull to Jove, or to Neptune, or a mouse to 
Hecate; that I do not tremble before the Eumenides, or the Cath- 
olic Purgatory, or the Calvinistic Judgment-day, — if I quake at 
opinion, the public opinion, as we call it; or at the threat of assault, 
or contumely, or bad neighbors, or pwverty, or mutilation, or at the 
rumor of revolution, or of murder? If I quake, what matters it 
what I quake at? Our proper vice takes form in one or another 
shape, according to the sex, age, or temperament of the person, and, 
if we are capable of fear, will readily find terrors. The covetousness 
or the malignity which saddens me, when I ascribe it to society, 
is my own. I am always environed by myself. On the other part, 
rectitude is a perpetual victory, celebrated not by cries of joy, but 
by serenity, which is joy fixed or habitual. It is disgraceful to fly 
to events for confirmation of our truth and worth. The capitalist 
does not run every hour to the broker, to coin his advantages into 
current money of the realm; he is satisfied to read in the quotations 
of the market, that his stocks have risen. The same transpxsrt which 
the occurrence of the best events in the best order would occasion 
me, I must learn to taste purer in the perception that my position 
is every hour meliorated, and does already command those events 
I desire. That exultation is only to be checked by the foresight of an 
order of things so excellent, as to throw all our prosperities into the 
deepest shade. 

The face which character wears to me is self-sufficingness. I revere 
the person who is richest; so that I cannot think of him as alone, 
or poor, or exiled, or unhappy, or a client, but as perpetual patron, 
benefactor, and beatified man. Character is centrality, the impossi- 
bihty of being displaced or overset. A man should give us a sense 



CHARACTER 1 89 

of mass. Society is frivolous, and shreds its day into scraps, its 
conversation into ceremonies and escapes. But if I go to see an 
ingenious man, I shall think myself poorly entertained if he give 
me nimble pieces of benevolence and etiquette; rather he shall 
stand stoutly in his place, and let me apprehend, if it were only his 
resistance; know that I have encountered a new and positive quality; 
— ^great refreshment for both of us. It is much, that he does not 
accept the conventional opinions and practices. That nonconformity 
will remain a goad and remembrancer, and every inquirer will have 
to dispose of him, in the first place. There is nothing real or useful 
that is not a seat of war. Our houses ring with laughter and personal 
and critical gossip, but it helps little. But the uncivil, unavailable 
man, who is a problem and a threat to society, whom it cannot let 
pass in silence, but must either worship or hate, — and to whom all 
parties feel related, both the leaders of opinion, and the obscure and 
eccentric, — he helps; he puts America and Europe in the wrong, and 
destroys the scepticism which says, "man is a doll, let us eat and 
drink, 'tis the best we can do," by illuminating the untried and 
unknown. Acquiescence in the establishment, and apf>eal to the 
public, indicate infirm faith, heads which are not clear, and which 
must see a house built, before they can comprehend the plan of it. 
The wise man not only leaves out of his thought the many, but 
leaves out the few. Fountains, fountains, the self-moved, the ab- 
sorbed, the commander because he is commanded, the assured, the 
primary, — they are good; for these announce the instant presence 
of supreme power. 

Our action should rest mathematically on our substance. In na- 
ture, there are no false valuations. A pound of water in the ocean- 
tempest has no more gravity than in a mid-summer pond. All things 
work exactly according to their quality, and according to their quan- 
tity; attempt nothing they cannot do, except man only. He has 
pretension: he wishes and attempts things beyond his force. I read 
in a book of English memoirs, "Mr. Fox (afterwards Lord Holland) 
said, he must have the Treasury; he had served up to it, and would 
have it." Xenophon and his Ten Thousand were quite equal to 
what they attempted, and did it; so equal, that it was not suspected 
to be a grand and inimitable exploit. Yet there stands that fact un- 



190 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

repeated, a high-water-mark in military history. Many have at- 
tempted it since, and not been equal to it. It is only on reality, that 
any power of action can be based. No institution will be better than 
the institutor. I knew an amiable and accomplished person who 
undertook a practical reform, yet I was never able to find in him 
the enterprise of love he took in hand. He adopted it by ear and 
by the understanding from the books he had been reading. All his 
action was tentative, a piece of the city carried out into the fields, 
and was the city still, and no new fact, and could not inspire en- 
thusiasm. Had there been something latent in the man, a terrible 
undemonstrated genius agitating and embarrassing his demeanor, 
we had watched for its advent. It is not enough that the intellect 
should see the evils, and their remedy. We shall still postpone our 
existence, nor take the ground to which we are entitled, whilst it is 
only a thought and not a spirit that incites us. We have not yet 
served up to it. 

These are properties of life, and another trait is the notice of in- 
cessant growth. Men should be intelligent and earnest. They must 
also make us feel, that they have a controlling happy future, open- 
ing before them, which sheds a splendor on the passing hour. The 
hero is misconceived and misreported: he cannot therefore wait 
to unravel any man's blunders: he is again on his road, adding 
new powers and honors to his domain, and new claims on yoiu^ 
heart, which will bankrupt you, if you have loitered about the old 
things, and have not kept your relation to him, by adding to your 
wealth. New actions are the only apologies and explanations of old 
ones, which the noble can bear to offer or to receive. If your friend 
has displeased you, you shall not sit down to consider it, for he has 
already lost all memory of the passage, and has doubled his power 
to serve you, and, ere you can rise up again, will burden you with 
blessings. 

We have no pleasure in thinking of a benevolence that is only 
measured by its works. Love is inexhaustible, and if its estate is 
wasted, its granary emptied, still cheers and enriches, and the man, 
though he sleep, seems to purify the air, and his house to adorn the 
landscape and strengthen the laws. People always recognize this 
difference. We know who is benevolent, by quite other means than 



CHARACTER 19I 

the amount of subscription to soup-societies. It is only low merits 
that can be enumerated. Fear, when your friends say to you what 
you have done well, and say it through; but when they stand with 
uncertain timid looks of respect and half-dislike, and must suspend 
their judgment for years to come, you may begin to hope. Those 
who live to the future must always appear selfish to those who live 
to the present. Therefore it was droll in the good Riemer, who 
has written memoirs of Goethe, to make out a list of his donations 
and good deeds, as, so many hundred thalers given to Stilling, to 
Hegel, to Tischbein: a lucrative place found for Professor Voss, a 
fxjst under the Grand Duke for Herder, a pension for Meyer, two 
professors recommended to foreign universities, &c., &c. The long- 
est list of specifications of benefit, would look very short. A man 
is a poor creature, if he is to be measured so. For, all these, of course, 
are exceptions; and the rule and hodiernal life of a good man is 
benefaction. The true charity of Goethe is to be inferred from the 
account he gave Dr. Eckermann, of the way in which he had 
spent his fortune. "Each bon-mot of mine has cost a purse of gold. 
Half a million of my own money, the fortune I inherited, my 
salary, and the large income derived from my writings for fifty years 
back, have been expended to instruct me in what I now know. I 
have besides seen," &c. 

I own it is but poor chat and gossip to go to enumerate traits of 
this simple and rapid power, and we are painting the lightning with 
charcoal; but in these long nights and vacations, I like to console 
myself so. Nothing but itself can copy it. A word warm from the 
heart enriches me. I surrender at discretion. How death-cold is lit- 
erary genius before this fire of life! These are the touches that 
reanimate my heavy soul, and give it eyes to pierce the dark of 
nature. I find, where I thought myself p)oor, there was I most rich. 
Thence comes a new intellectual exaltation, to be again rebuked by 
some new exhibition of character. Strange alternation of attraction 
and repulsion! Character repudiates intellect, yet excites it; and 
character passes into thought, is published so, and then is ashamed 
before new flashes of moral worth. 

Character is nature in the highest form. It is of no use to af)e it, 
or to contend with it. Somewhat is possible of resistance, and of 



192 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

persistence, and of creation, to this power, which will foil all emu- 
lation. 

This masterpiece is best where no hands but nature's have been 
laid on it. Care is taken that the greatly-destined shall slip up into 
life in the shade, with no thousand-eyed Athens to watch and 
blazon every new thought, every blushing emotion of young genius. 
Two persons lately, — very young children of the most high God, — 
have given me occasion for thought. When I explored the source 
of their sanctity, and charm for the imagination, it seemed as if each 
answered, "From my non-conformity: I never listened to your 
people's law, or to what they call their gospel, and wasted my time. 
I was content with the simple rural poverty of my own; hence this 
sweetness: my work never reminds you of that; — is pure of that." 
And nature advertises me in such persons, that, in democratic 
America, she will not be democratized. How cloistered and consti- 
tutionally sequestered from the market and from scandal! It was 
only this morning, that I sent away some wild flowers of these 
wood-gods. They are a relief from literature, — these fresh draughts 
from the sources of thought and sentiment; as we read, in an age 
of polish and criticism, the first lines of written prose and verse 
of a nation. How captivating is their devotion to their favorite 
books, whether yEschylus, Dante, Shakspeare, or Scott, as feeling 
that they have a stake in that book: who touches that, touches them; 
— and especially the total solitude of the critic, the Patmos of thought 
from which he writes, in unconsciousness of any eyes that shall ever 
read this writing. Could they dream on still, as angels, and not wake 
to comparisons, and to be flattered! Yet some natures are too good 
to be spoiled by praise, and wherever the vein of thought reaches 
down into the profound, there is no danger from vanity. Solemn 
friends will warn them of the danger of the head's being turned by 
the flourish of trumpets, but they can afford to smile. I remember 
the indignation of an eloquent Methodist at the kind admonitions 
of a Doctor of Divinity, — "My friend, a man can neither be praised 
nor insulted." But forgive the counsels; they are very natural. I 
remember the thought which occurred to me when some ingenious 
and spiritual foreigners came to America, was, Have you been vie- 



CHARACTER 193 

timized in being brought hither ? — or, prior to that, answer me this, 
"Are you victimizable?" 

As I have said, nature keeps these sovereignties in her own hands, 
and however partly our sermons and disciplines would divide some 
share of credit, and teach that the laws fashion the citizen, she goes 
her own gait, and puts the wisest in the wrong. She makes very 
light of gospels and prophets, as one who has a great many more 
to produce, and no excess of time to spare on any one. There is a 
class of men, individuals of which appear at long intervals, so 
eminently endowed with insight and virtue, that they have been 
unanimously saluted as divine, and who seem to be an accumula- 
tion of that power we consider. Divine persons are character 
born, or, to borrow a phrase from Napoleon, they are victory or- 
ganized. They are usually received with ill-will, because they are 
new, and because they set a bound to the exaggeration that has been 
made of the personality of the last divine person. Nature never 
rhymes her children, nor makes two men aUke. 

When we see a great man, we fancy a resemblance to some his- 
torical person, and predict the sequel of his character and fortune, 
a result which is sure to disappoint. None will ever solve the prob- 
lem of his character according to our prejudice, but only in his own 
high unprecedented way. Character wants room; must not be 
crowded on by persons, nor be judged from glimpses got in the 
press of affairs or on few occasions. It needs p)erspective, as a great 
building. It may not, probably does not, form relations rapidly; 
and we should not require rash explanation, either on the popular 
ethics, or on our own, of its action. 

I look on Sculpture as history. I do not think the Apollo and the 
Jove impossible in flesh and blood. Every trait which the artist 
recorded in stone, he had seen in life, and better than his copy. We 
have seen many counterfeits, but we are born believers in great 
men. How easily we read in old books, when men were few, of the 
smallest action of the patriarchs. We require that a man should be 
so large and columnar in the landscape, that it should deserve to be 
recorded, that he arose, and girded up his loins, and departed to 
such a place. The most credible pictures are those of majestic men 



194 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

who prevailed at their entrance, and convinced the senses; as hap- 
pened to the eastern magian who was sent to test the merits of 
Zertusht or Zoroaster. When the Yunani sage arrived at Balkh, 
the Persians tell us, Gushtasp appointed a day on which the mobeds 
of every country should assemble, and a golden chair was placed 
for the Yunani sage. Then the beloved of Yezdam, the prophet 
Zertusht, advanced into the midst of the assembly. The Yunani 
sage, on seeing that chief, said, "This form and this gait cannot lie, 
and nothing but truth can proceed from them." Plato said, it was 
impossible not to believe in the children of the gods, "though they 
should speak without probable or necessary arguments." I should 
think myself very unhappy in my associates, if I could not credit 
the best things in history. "John Bradshaw," says Milton, "appears 
like a consul, from whom the fasces are not to depart with the 
year; so that not on the tribunal only but throughout his life, you 
would regard him as sitting in judgment upon kings." I find it 
more credible, since it is anterior information, that one man should 
l{now heaven, as the Chinese say, than that so many men should 
know the world. "The virtuous prince confronts the gods, without 
any misgiving. He waits a hundred ages till a sage comes, and does 
not doubt. He who confronts the gods, without any misgiving, 
knows heaven; he who waits a hundred ages until a sage comes, 
without doubting, knows men. Hence the virtuous prince moves, 
and for ages shows empire the way." But there is no need to seek 
remote examples. He is a dull observer whose experience has not 
taught him the reality and force of magic, as well as of chemistry. 
The coldest precisian cannot go abroad without encountering in- 
explicable influences. One man fastens an eye on him, and the 
graves of the memory render up their dead; the secrets that make 
him wretched either to keep or to betray, must be yielded; — another, 
and he cannot speak, and the bones of his body seem to lose their 
cartilage; the entrance of a friend adds grace, boldness, and elo- 
quence to him; and there are persons, he cannot choose but remem- 
ber, who gave a transcendant expansion to his thought, and kindled 
another life in his bosom. 

What is so excellent as strict relations of amity, when they spring 
from this deep root ? The sufficient reply to the sceptic, who doubts 



CHARACTER 1 95 

the power and the furniture of man, is in that possibility of joyful 
intercourse with persons, which makes the faith and practice of all 
reasonable men. I know nothing which life has to offer so satis- 
fying as the profound good understanding, which can subsist, after 
much exchange of good offices, between two virtuous men, each of 
whom is sure of himself, and sure of his friend. It is a happiness 
which postpones all other gratifications, and makes poHtics, and 
commerce, and churches, cheap. For, when men shall meet as they 
ought, each a benefactor, a shower of stars, clothed with thoughts, 
with deeds, with accompHshments, it should be the festival of 
nature which all things announce. Of such friendship, love in the 
sexes is the first symbol, as all other things are symbols of love. 
Those relations to the best men, which, at one time, we reckoned 
the romances of youth, become, in the progress of the character, the 
most solid enjoyment. 

If it were possible to live in right relations with men! — if we coiUd 
abstain from asking anything of them, from asking their praise, or 
help, or pity, and content us with compelling them through the 
virtue of the eldest laws! Could we not deal with a few persons, — 
with one person, — after the unwritten statutes, and make an experi- 
ment of their efficacy ? Could we not pay our friend the compliment 
of truth, of silence, of forbearing? Need we be so eager to seek him? 
If we are related, we shall meet. It was a tradition of the ancient 
world, that no metamorphosis could hide a god from a god; and 
there is a Greek verse which runs. 

The Gods are to each other not unknown. 

Friends also follow the laws of divine necessity; they gravitate to 
each other, and cannot otherwise: — 

When each the other shall avoid 
Shall each by each be most enjoyed. 

Their relation is not made, but allowed. The gods must seat them- 
selves without seneschal in our Olympus, and as they can install 
themselves by seniority divine. Society is spoiled if pains are taken, 
if the associates are brought a mile to meet. And if it be not society, 
it is a mischievous, low, degrading jangle, though made up of the 



196 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

best. All the greatness of each is kept back, and every foible in pain- 
ful activity, as if the Olympians should meet to exchange snuff-boxes. 

Life goes headlong. We chase some flying scheme, or we are 
hunted by some fear or command behind us. But if suddenly we 
encounter a friend we pause; our heat and hurry look foolish 
enough; now pause, now possession, is required, and the power to 
swell the moment from the resources of the heart. The moment is 
all, in all noble relations. 

A divine person is the prophecy of the mind; a friend is the hope 
of the heart. Our beatitude waits for the fulfilment of these two 
in one. The ages are opening this moral force. All force is the 
shadow or symbol of that. Poetry is joyful and strong, as it draws 
its inspiration thence. Men write their names on the world, as they 
are filled with this. History has been mean; our nations have been 
mobs; we have never seen a man: that divine form we do not yet 
know, but only the dream and prophecy of such: we do not know 
the majestic manners which belong to him, which appease and 
exalt the beholder. We shall one day see that the most private is 
the most public energy, that quality atones for quantity, and gran- 
deur of character acts in the dark, and succors them who never saw 
it. What greatness has yet appeared, is beginnings and encourage- 
ments to us in this direction. The history of those gods and saints 
which the world has written, and then worshipped, are documents 
of character. The ages have exulted in the manners of a youth who 
owed nothing to fortune, and who was hanged at the Tyburn of 
his nation, who, by the pure quality of his nature, shed an epic 
splendor around the facts of his death, which has transfigured every 
particular into an universal symbol for the eyes of mankind. This 
great defeat is hitherto our highest fact. But the mind requires a 
victory to the senses, a force of character which will convert judge, 
jury, soldier, and king; which will rule animal and mineral virtues, 
and blend with the courses of sap, of rivers, of winds, of stars, and 
of moral agents. 

If we cannot attain at a bound to these grandeurs at least, let us 
do them homage. In society, high advantages are set down to the 
fXDssessor, as disadvantages. It requires the more wariness in our 
private estimates. I do not forgive in my friends the failure to know 



CHARACTER 1 97 

a nne character, and to entertain it with thankful hospitaUty. When 
at last, that which we have always longed for, is arrived, and shines 
on us with glad rays out of that far celestial land, then to be coarse, 
then to be critical, and treat such a visitant with the jabber and 
suspicion of the streets, argues a vulgarity that seems to shut the 
doors of heaven. This is confusion, this the right insanity, when the 
soul no longer knows its own, nor where its allegiance, its religion, 
are due. Is there any religion but this, to know, that, wherever in the 
wide desert of being, the holy sentiment we cherish has opened into 
a flower, it blooms for me? if none sees it I see if, I am aware, if I 
alone, of the greatness of the fact. Whilst it blooms, I will keep sab- 
bath or holy time, and suspend my gloom, and my folly and jokes. 
Nature is indulged by the presence of this guest. There are many 
eyes that can detect and honor the prudent and household virtues; 
there are many that can discern Genius on his starry track, though 
the mob is incapable; but when that love which is all-suffering, all- 
abstaining, all-aspiring, which has vowed to itself, that it will be a 
wretch and also a fool in this world, sooner than soil its white hands 
by any compliances, comes into our streets and houses, — only the 
pure and aspiring can know its face, and the only compHment they 
can pay it, is to own it. 



MANNERS 

(1844) 

How near to good is what is fair! 

Which we no sooner see. 
But with the Hnes and outward air 

Our senses taken be. 



Again yourselves compose. 
And now put all the aptness on 
Of Figure, that Propwrtion 

Or Color can disclose; 
That if those silent arts were lost. 
Design and Picture, they might boast 

From you a newer ground, 
Instructed by the heightening sense 
Of dignity and reverence 

In their true motions found. 

— Ben Jonson. 

HALF the world, it is said, knows not how the other half Uve. 
Our Exploring Expedition saw the Feejee islanders getting 
their dinner off human bones; and they are said to eat their 
own wives and children. The husbandry of the modern inhabitants 
of Gournou (west of old Thebes) is philosophical to a fault. To set 
up their housekeeping, nothing is requisite but two or three earthen 
pots, a stone to grind meal, and a mat which is the bed. The house, 
namely, a tomb, is ready without rent or taxes. No rain can pass 
through the roof, and there is no door, for there is no want of one, 
as there is nothing to lose. If the house do not please them, they 
walk out and enter another, as there are several hundreds at their 
command. "It is somewhat singular," adds Belzoni, to whom we 
owe this account, "to talk of happiness among people who live in 
sepulchres, among the corpses and rags of an ancient nation which 
they know nothing of." In the deserts of Borgoo, the rock-Tibboos 
still dwell in caves, like cliff -swallows, and the language of these 

199 



200 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

negroes is compared by their neighbors to the shrieking of bats, and 
to the whistUng of birds Again, the Bornoos have no proper names; 
individuals are called after their height, thickness, or other accidental 
quality, and have nicknames merely. But the salt, the dates, the 
ivory, and the gold, for which these horrible regions are visited, find 
their way into countries, where the purchaser and consumer can 
hardly be ranked in one race with these cannibals and man-stealers; 
countries where man serves himself with metals, wood, stone, glass, 
gum, cotton, silk, and wool; honors himself with architecture; writes 
laws, and contrives to execute his will through the hands of many 
nations; and, especially, establishes a select society, running through 
all the countries of intelligent men, a self-constituted aristocracy, or 
fraternity of the best, which, without written law or exact usage of 
any kind, perpetuates itself, colonizes every new-planted island, and 
adopts and makes its own whatever personal beauty or extraordinary 
native endowment anywhere apf)ears. 

What fact more conspicuous in modern history, than the creation 
of the gentleman? Chivalry is that, and loyalty is that, and, in Eng- 
lish literature, half the drama, and all the novels, from Sir Philip 
Sidney to Sir Walter Scott, paint this figure. The word gentleman, 
which, like the word Christian, must hereafter characterize the 
present and the few preceding centuries, by the importance attached 
to it, is a homage to personal and incommunicable properties. Friv- 
olous and fantastic additions have got associated with the name, 
but the steady interest of mankind in it must be attributed to the 
valuable properties which it designates. An element which unites 
all the most forcible persons of every country; makes them intel- 
ligible and agreeable to each other, and is somewhat so precise, 
that it is at once felt if an individual lack the masonic sign, cannot 
be any casual product, but must be an average result of the character 
and faculties universally found in men. It seems a certain permanent 
average; as the atmosphere is a permanent composition, while so 
many gases are combined only to be decompounded. Comme il 
faiit, is the Frenchman's description of good society, as we must be. 
It is a spontaneous fruit of talents and feelings of precisely that class 
who have most vigor, who take the lead in the world of this hour, 
and, though far from pure, far from constituting the gladdest and 



MANNERS 201 

highest tone of human feeUng, is as good as the whole society per- 
mits it to be. It is made of the spirit, more than of the talent of men, 
and is a comjxjund result, into which every great force enters as an 
ingredient, namely, virtue, wit, beauty, wealth, and power. 

There is something equivocal in all the words in use to express 
the excellence of manners and social cultivation, because the quan- 
tities are fluctional, and the last effect is assumed by the senses as 
the cause. The word gentleman has not any correlative abstract 
to express the quality. Gentility is mean, and gentilesse is obsolete. 
But we must keep alive in the vernacular, the distinction between 
fashion, a word of narrow and often sinister meaning, and the heroic 
character which the gentleman imports. The usual words, however, 
must be respected: they will be found to contain the root of the 
matter. The pwint of distinction in all this class of names, as courtesy, 
chivalry, fashion, and the like, is, that the flower and fruit, not the 
grain of the tree, are contemplated. It is beauty which is the aim 
this time, and not worth. The result is now in question, although 
our words intimate well enough the popular feeling, that the ap- 
pearance supposes a substance. The gentleman is a man of truth, 
lord of his own actions, and expressing that lordship in his behavior, 
not in any manner dependent and servile either on persons, or 
opinions, or possessions. Beyond this fact of truth and real force, 
the word denotes good-nature or benevolence; manhood first, and 
then gentleness. The popular notion certainly adds a condition of 
ease and fortune; but that is a natural result of personal force and 
love, that they should possess and dispense the goods of the world. 
In times of violence, every eminent person must fall in with many 
opportunities to approve his stoutness and worth; therefore every 
man's name that emerged at all from the mass in the feudal ages, 
rattles in our ear like a flourish of trumpets. But personal force 
never goes out of fashion. That is still paramount to-day, and, in 
the moving crowd of good society, the men of valor and reality are 
known, and rise to their natural place. The competition is trans- 
ferred from war to politics and trade, but the personal force appears 
readily enough in these new arenas. 

Power first, or no leading class. In politics and in trade, bruisers 
and pirates are of better promise than talkers and clerks. God knows 



202 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

that all sorts of gentlemen knock at the door; but whenever used in 
strictness, and with any emphasis, the name will be found to point 
at original energy. It describes a man standing in his own right, 
and working after untaught methods. In a good lord, there must 
first be a good animal, at least to the extent of yielding the incom- 
parable advantage of animal spirits. The ruling class must have 
more, but they must have these, giving in every company the sense 
of power, which makes things easy to be done which daunt the wise. 
The society of the energetic class, in their friendly and festive meet- 
ings, is full of courage, and attempts which intimidate the pale 
scholar. The courage which girls exhibit is like a battle of Lundy's 
Lane, or a sea fight. The intellect relies on memory to make some 
supplies to face these extemporaneous squadrons. But memory is 
a base mendicant with basket and badge, in the presence of these 
sudden masters. The rulers of society must be up to the work of 
the world, and equal to their versatile office: men of the right 
Csesarian pattern, who have great range of affinity. I am far from 
believing the timid maxim of Lord Falkland, ("that for ceremony 
there must go two to it; since a bold fellow will go through the 
cunningest forms,") and am of opinion that the gentleman is the 
bold fellow whose forms are not to be broken through; and only 
that plenteous nature is rightful master, which is the complement 
of whatever p)erson it converses with. My gendeman gives the law 
where he is; he will outpray saints in chapel, outgeneral veterans 
in the field, and outshine all courtesy in the hall. He is good com- 
pany for pirates, and good with academicians; so that it is useless 
to fortify yourself against him; he has the private entrance to all 
minds, and I could as easily exclude myself, as him. The famous 
gentlemen of Asia and Europe have been of this strong type; 
Saladin, Sapxjr, the Cid, Julius Ciesar, Scipio, Alexander, Pericles, 
and the lordliest personages. They sat very carelessly in their chairs, 
and were too excellent themselves to value any condition at a high 
rate. 

A plentiful fortune is reckoned necessary, in the popular judg- 
ment, to the completion of this man of the world : and it is a material 
deputy which walks through the dance which the first has led. 
Money is not essential, but this wide affinity is, which transcends the 



MANNERS 203 

habits of clique and caste, and makes itself felt by men of all classes. 
If the aristocrat is only valid in fashionable circles, and not with 
truckmen, he will never be a leader in fashion; and if the man of the 
people cannot speak on equal terms with the gentleman, so that the 
gentleman shall perceive that he is already really of his own order, he 
is not to be feared. Diogenes, Socrates, and Epaminondas, are gende- 
men of the best blood, who have chosen the condition of poverty, 
when that of wealth was equally open to them. I use these old 
names, but the men 1 speak of are my contemporaries. Fortune 
will not supply to every generation one of these well-appointed 
knights, but every collection of men furnishes some example of 
the class: and the politics of this country, and the trade of every 
town, are controlled by these hardy and irresponsible doers, who 
have invention to take the lead, and a broad sympathy which puts 
them in fellowship with crowds, and makes their action popular. 

The manners of this class are observed and caught with devotion 
by men of taste. The association of these masters with each other, 
and with men intelligent of their merits, is mutually agreeable and 
stimulating. The good forms, the happiest expressions of each, are 
repeated and adopted. By swift consent, everything superfluous is 
dropped, everything graceful is renewed. Fine manners show them- 
selves formidable to the uncultivated man. They are a subder science 
of defence to parry and intimidate; but once matched by the skill 
of the other party, they drop the point of the sword, — points and 
fences disappear, and the youth finds himself in a more transparent 
atmosphere, wherein life is a less troublesome game, and not a 
misunderstanding rises between the players. Manners aim to faciU- 
tate hfe, to get rid of impediments, and bring the man pure to 
energize. They aid our dealing and conversation, as a railway aids 
travelling, by getting rid of all avoidable obstructions of the road, 
and leaving nothing to be conquered but pure space. These forms 
very soon become fixed, and a fine sense of propriety is cultivated 
with the more heed, that it becomes a badge of social and civil dis- 
tinction. Thus grows up Fashion, an equivocal semblance, the most 
puissant, the most fantastic and frivolous, the most feared and fol- 
lowed, and which morals and violence assault in vain. 

There exists a strict relation between the class of power, and the 



204 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

exclusive and polished circles. The last are always filled or filling 
from the first. The strong men usually give some allowance even 
to the petulances of fashion, for that affinity they find in it. Napo- 
leon, child of the revolution, destroyer of the old noblesse, never 
ceased to court the Faubourg St. Germain : doubtless with the feehng, 
that fashion is a homage to men of his stamp. Fashion, though in a 
strange way, represents all manly virtue. It is virtue gone to seed: 
it is a kind of posthumous honor. It does not often caress the great, 
but the children of the great : it is a hall of the Past. It usually sets 
its face against the great of this hour. Great men are not commonly 
in its halls: they are absent in the field: they are working, not tri- 
umphing. Fashion is made up of their children; of those, who, 
through the value and virtue of somebody, have acquired lustre to 
their name, marks of distinction, means of cultivation and gener- 
osity, and, in their physical organization, a certain health and ex- 
cellence, which secures to them, if not the highest power to work, 
yet high power to enjoy. The class of power, the working heroes, the 
Cortez, the Nelson, the Napoleon, see that this is the festivity and 
permanent celebration of such as they; that fashion is funded talent; 
is Mexico, Marengo, and Trafalgar beaten out thin; that the brilliant 
names of fashion run back to just such busy names as their own, 
fifty or sixty years ago. They are the sowers, their sons shall be the 
reapers, and their sons, in the ordinary course of things, must yield 
the possession of the harvest to new competitors with keener eyes 
and stronger frames. The city is recruited from the country. In 
the year 1805, it is said, every legitimate monarch in Europe was 
imbecile. The city would have died out, rotted, and exploded long 
ago, but that it was reinforced from the fields. It is only country 
which came to town day before yesterday, that is city and court 
to-day. 

Aristocracy and fashion are certain inevitable results. These mu- 
tual selections are indestructible. If they provoke anger in the least 
favored class, and the excluded majority revenge themselves on the 
excluding minority, by the strong hand, and kill them, at once a 
new class finds itself at the top, as certainly as cream rises in a bowl 
of milk : and if the people should destroy class after class, until two 
men only were left, one of these would be the leader, and would be 



MANNERS 205 

involuntarily served and copied by the other. You may keep this 
minority out of sight and out of mind, but it is tenacious of life, 
and is one of the estates of the realm. I am the more struck with 
this tenacity, when I see its work. It respects the administration of 
such unimportant matters, that we should not look for any durability 
in its rule. We sometimes meet men under some strong moral in- 
fluence, as, a patriotic, a literary, a religious movement, and feel that 
the moral sentiment rules man and nature. We think all other dis- 
tinctions and ties will be slight and fugitive, this of caste or fashion, 
for example; yet come from year to year, and see how permanent 
that is, in this Boston or New York life of man, where, too, it has 
not the least countenance from the law of the land. Not in Egypt 
or in India a firmer or more impassable line. Here are associations 
whose ties go over, and under, and through it, a meeting of mer- 
chants, a military corps, a college<lass, a fire-club, a professional 
association, a political, a religious convention; — the persons seem to 
draw inseparably near; yet, that assembly once dispersed, its mem- 
bers will not in the year meet again. Each returns to his degree in 
the scale of good society, porcelain remains porcelain, and earthen 
earthen. The objects of fashion may be frivolous, or fashion may be 
objectless, but the nature of this union and selection can be neither 
frivolous nor accidental. Each man's rank in that perfect graduation 
depends on some symmetry in his structure, or some agreement in 
his structure to the symmetry of society. Its doors unbar instantane- 
ously to a natural claim of their own kind. A natural gentleman 
finds his way in, and will keep the oldest patrician out, who has 
lost his intrinsic rank. Fashion understands itself; good-breeding 
and {personal superiority of whatever country readily fraternize with 
those of every other. The chiefs of savage tribes have distinguished 
themselves in London and Paris, by the purity of their tournure. 

To say what good of fashion we can, — it rests on reality, and hates 
nothing so much as pretenders; — to exclude and mystify pretenders, 
and send them into everlasting "Coventry," is its delight. We con- 
temn, in turn, every other gift of men of the world; but the habit 
even in Uttle and the least matters, of not appealing to any but our 
own sense of propriety, constitutes the foundation of all chivalry. 
There is almost no kind of self-reliance, so it be sane and proper- 



206 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

tioned, which fashion does not occasionally adopt, and give it the 
freedom of its saloons, A sainted soul is always elegant, and, if it 
will, passes unchallenged into the most guarded ring. But so will 
Jock the teamster pass, in some crisis that brings him thither, and 
find favor, as long as his head is not giddy with the new circum- 
stance, and the iron shoes do not wish to dance in waltzes and 
cotillons. For there is nothing setded in manners, but the laws of 
behavior yield to the energy of the individual. The maiden at her 
first ball, the countryman at a city dinner, beUeves that there is a 
ritual according to which every act and compliment must be per- 
formed, or the failing party must be cast out of this presence. Later, 
they learn that good sense and character make their own forms 
every moment, and speak or abstain, take wine or refuse it, stay or 
go, sit in a chair or sprawl with children on the floor, or stand on their 
head, or what else soever, in a new and aboriginal way: and that 
strong will is always in fashion, let who will be unfashionable. All 
that fashion demands is composure, and self-content. A circle of 
men perfectly well-bred would be a company of sensible persons, in 
which every man's native manners and character appeared. If the 
fashionist have not this quality, he is nothing. We are such lovers 
of self-reliance, that we excuse in a man many sins, if he will show 
us a complete satisfaction in his position, which asks no leave to be, 
of mine, or any man's good opinion. But any deference to some 
eminent man or woman of the world, forfeits all privilege of nobility. 
He is an underling: I have nothing to do with him; I will speak 
with his master. A man should not go where he cannot carry his 
whole sphere or society with him, — not bodily, the whole circle of 
his friends, but atmospherically. He should preserve in a new com- 
pany the same attitude of mind and reality of relation, which his 
daily associates draw him to, else he is shorn of his best beams, and 
will be an orphan in the merriest club. "If you could see Vich Ian 

Vohr with his tail on! " But Vich Ian Vohr must always carry 

his belongings in some fashion, if not added as honor, then severed 
as disgrace. 

There will always be in society certain persons who are merciu-ies 
of its approbation, and whose glance will at any time determine for 
the curious their standing in the world. These are the chamberlains 



MANNERS 207 

of the lesser gods. Accept their coldness as an omen of grace with 
the loftier deities, and allow them all their privilege. They are clear 
in their office, nor could they be thus formidable, without their own 
merits. But do not measure the importance of this class by their 
pretension, or imagine that a fop can be the dispenser of honor and 
shame. They pass also at their just rate; for how can they otherwise, 
in circles which exist as a sort of herald's office for the sifting of 
character? 

As the first thing man requires of man, is reality, so, that appears 
in all the forms of society. We pointedly, and by name, introduce 
the parties to each other. Know you before all heaven and earth, 
that this is Andrew, and this is Gregory; — they look each other in 
the eye; they grasp each other's hand, to identify and signalize each 
other. It is a great satisfaction. A gentleman never dodges: his 
eyes look straight forward, and he assures the other party, first of all, 
that he has been met. For what is it that we seek, in so many visits 
and hospitalities? Is it your draperies, pictures, and decorations? 
Or, do we not insatiably ask. Was a man in the house? I may easily 
go into a great household where there is much substance, excellent 
provision for comfort, luxury, and taste, and yet not encounter there 
any Amphitryon, who shall subordinate these appendages. I may 
go into a cottage, and find a farmer who feels that he is the man 
I have come to see, and fronts me accordingly. It was therefore 
a very natural point of old feudal etiquette, that a gentleman who 
received a visit, though it were of his sovereign, should not leave his 
roof, but should wait his arrival at the door of his house. No house, 
though it were the Tuileries, or the Escurial, is good for anything 
without a master. And yet we are not often gratified by this hos- 
pitality. Every body we know surrounds himself with a fine house, 
fine books, conservatory, gardens, equipage, and all manner of toys, 
as screens to interpose between himself and his guest. Does it not 
seem as if man was of a very sly, elusive nature, and dreaded nothing 
so much as a full rencontre front to front with his fellow? It were 
unmerciful, I know, quite to abolish the use of these screens, which 
are of eminent convenience, whether the guest is too great, or too 
litde. We call together many friends who keep each other in play, 
or, by luxuries and ornaments we amuse the young people, and 



208 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

guard our retirement. Or if, perchance, a searching realist comes 
to our gate, before whose eye we have no care to stand, then again 
we run to our curtain, and hide ourselves as Adam at the voice of 
the Lord God in the garden. Cardinal Caprara, the Pope's legate 
at Paris, defended himself from the glances of Napoleon, by an 
immense pair of green spectacles. Napoleon remarked them, and 
speedily managed to rally them off: and yet Napoleon, in his turn, 
was not great enough with eight hundred thousand troops at his 
back, to face a pair of freeborn eyes, but fenced himself with eti- 
quette, and within triple barriers of reserve: and, as all the world 
knows from Madame de Stael, was wont, when he found himself 
observed, to discharge his face of all expression. But emp)erors and 
rich men are by no means the most skilful masters of good manners. 
No rent-roll nor army-list can dignify skulking and dissimulation: 
and the first point of courtesy must always be truth, as really all the 
forms of good-breeding point that way. 

I have just been reading, in Mr. Hazlitt's translation, Montaigne's 
account of his journey into Italy, and am struck with nothing more 
agreeably than the self-respecting fashions of the time. His arrival 
in each place, the arrival of a gentleman of France, is an event of 
some consequence. Wherever he goes, he pays a visit to whatever 
prince or gentleman of note resides upon his road, as a duty to him- 
self and to civilization. When he leaves any house in which he has 
lodged for a few weeks, he causes his arms to be painted and hung 
up as a perpetual sign to the house, as was the custom of gentlemen. 

The complement of this graceful self-respect, and that of all the 
points of good breeding I most require and insist upon, is deference. 
I like that every chair should be a throne, and hold a king. I prefer 
a tendency to stateliness, to an excess of fellowship. Let the in- 
communicable objects of nature and the metaphysical isolation of 
man teach us independence. Let us not be too much acquainted. 
I would have a man enter his house through a hall filled with heroic 
and sacred sculptures, that he might not want the hint of tranquillity 
and self-poise. We should meet each morning, as from foreign 
countries, and spending the day together, should depart at night, 
as into foreign countries. In all things I would have the island of a 
man inviolate. Let us sit apart as the gods, talking from peak to 



MANNERS 209 

peak all around Olympus, No degree of affection need invade this 
religion. This is myrrh and rosemary to keep the other sweet. Lov- 
ers should guard their strangeness. If they forgive too much, all 
sUdes into confusion and meanness. It is easy to push this deference 
to a Chinese etiquette; but coolness and absence of heat and haste 
indicate fine qualities. A gentleman makes no noise: a lady is 
serene. Proportionate is our disgust at those invaders who fill a 
studious house with blast and running, to secure some paltry con- 
venience. Not less I dislike a low sympathy of each with his neigh- 
bor's needs. Must we have a good understanding with one another's 
palates? as foolish people who have lived long together, know when 
each wants salt or sugar. I pray my companion, if he wishes for 
bread, to ask me for bread, and if he wishes for sassafras or arsenic, 
to ask me for them, and not to hold out his plate, as if I knew 
already. Every natural function can be dignified by deliberation and 
privacy. Let us leave hurry to slaves. The compliments and cere- 
monies of our breeding should signify, however remotely, the recol- 
lection of the grandeur of our destiny. 

The flower of courtesy does not very well bide handling, but if 
we dare to open another leaf, and explore what parts go to its con- 
formation, we shall find also an intellectual quality. To the leaders 
of men, the brain as well as the flesh and the heart must furnish 
a proportion. Defect in manners is usually the defect of fine per- 
ceptions. Men are too coarsely made for the delicacy of beautiful 
carriage and customs. It is not quite sufficient to good breeding, a 
union of kindness and independence. We imperatively require a 
perception of, and a homage to beauty in our companions. Other 
virtues are in request in the field and workyard, but a certain degree 
of taste is not to be spared in those we sit with. I could better eat 
with one who did not respect the truth or the laws, than with a 
sloven and unpresentable person. Moral qualities rule the world, 
but at short distances, the senses are despotic. The same discrimina- 
tion of fit and fair runs out, if with less vigor, into all parts of life. 
The average spirit of the energetic class is good sense, acting under 
certain limitations and to certain ends. It entertains every natural 
gift. Social in its nature, it respects everything which tends to unite 
men. It delights in measure. The love of beauty is mainly the love 



210 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

of measure or proportion. The person who screams, or uses the 
superlative degree, or converses with heat, puts whole drawing- 
rooms to flight. If you wish to be loved, love measure. You must 
have genius, or a prodigious usefulness, if you will hide the want 
of measure. This perception comes in to polish and perfect the parts 
of the social instruments. Society will pardon much to genius and 
special gifts, but, being in its nature a convention, it loves what is 
conventional, or what belongs to coming together, That makes 
the good and bad of manners, namely, what helps or hinders fellow- 
ship. For, fashion is not good sense absolute, but relative; not good 
sense private, but good sense entertaining company. It hates corners 
and sharp points of character, hates quarrelsome, egotistical, solitary, 
and gloomy people; hates whatever can interfere with total blend- 
ing of parties; whilst it values all peculiarities as in the highest de- 
gree refreshing, which can consist with good fellowship. And be- 
sides the general infusion of wit to heighten civiUty, the direct 
splendor of intellectual power is ever welcome in fine society as the 
costliest addition to its rule and its credit. 

The dry Hght must shine in to adorn our festival, but it must be 
tempered and shaded, or that will also offend. Accuracy is essential 
to beauty, and quick perceptions to politeness, but not too quick 
perceptions. One may be too punctual and too precise. He must 
leave the omniscience of business at the door, when he comes into 
the palace of beauty. Society loves Creole natures, and sleepy, lan- 
guishing manners, so that they cover sense, grace, and goodwill; 
the air of drowsy strength, which disarms criticism; perhaps because 
such a person seems to reserve himself for the best of the game, and 
not spend himself on surfaces; an ignoring eye, which does not see 
the annoyances, shifts and inconvenience, that cloud the brow and 
smother the voice of the sensitive. 

Therefore, besides personal force and so much perception as 
constitutes unerring taste, society demands in its patrician class 
another element already intimated, which it significantly terms good- 
nature, expressing all degrees of generosity, from the lowest willing- 
ness and faculty to oblige, up to the heights of magnanimity and 
love. Insight we must have, or we shall run against one another, and 
miss the way to our food; but intellect is selfish and barren. The 



MANNERS 211 

secret of success in society, is a certain heartiness and sympathy. A 
man who is not happy in the company, cannot find any word in his 
memory that will fit the occasion. All his information is a little im- 
pertinent. A man who is happy there, finds in every turn of the 
conversation equally lucky occasions for the introduction of that 
which he has to say. The favorites of society and what it calls whole 
souls, are able men, and of more spirit than wit, who have no un- 
comfortable egotism, but who exactly fill the hour and the company, 
contented and contenting, at a marriage or a funeral, a ball or a jury, 
a water party or a shooting-match. England, which is rich in gentle- 
men, furnished, in the beginning of the present century, a good 
model of that genius which the world loves, in Mr. Fox, who added 
to his great abilities the most social disposition, and real love of men. 
Parliamentary history has few better passages than the debate, in 
which Burke and Fox separated in the House of Commons; when 
Fox urged on his old friend the claims of old friendship with such 
tenderness, that the house was moved to tears. Another anecdote 
is so close to my matter, that I must hazard the story. A tradesman 
who had long dunned him for a note of three hundred guineas, 
found him one day counting gold, and demanded payment: "No," 
said Fox, "I owe this money to Sheridan : it is a debt of honor : if an 
accident should happen to me, he has nothing to show." "Then," 
said the creditor, "I change my debt into a debt of honor," and tore 
the note in pieces. Fox thanked the man for his confidence, and 
paid him, saying, "his debt was of older standing, and Sheridan 
must wait." Lover of Liberty, friend of the Hindoo, friend of the 
African slave, he possessed a great personal popularity; and Na- 
poleon said of him on the occasion of his visit to Paris, in 1805, 
"Mr. Fox will always hold the first place in an assembly at the 
Tuileries." 

We may easily seem ridiculous in our eulogy of courtesy, when- 
ever we insist on benevolence as its foundation. The painted phan- 
tasm Fashion rises to cast a species of derision on what we say. But 
I will neither be driven from allowance to Fashion as a symbolic 
institution, nor from the belief that love is the basis of courtesy. 
We must obtain that, if we can; but by all means we must affirm 
this. Life owes much of its spirit to these sharp contrasts. Fashion 



212 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

which affects to be honor, is often, in all men's experience, only a 
ballroom<ode. Yet, so long as it is the highest circle, in the imagina- 
tion of the best heads on the planet, there is something necessary and 
excellent in it; for it is not to be supposed that men have agreed to 
be the dupes of anything preposterous; and the respect which these 
mysteries inspire in the most rude and sylvan characters, and the 
curiosity with which details of high life are read, betray the univer- 
sality of the love of cultivated manners. I know that a comic dis- 
parity would be felt, if we should enter the acknowledged "first 
circles" and apply these terrific standards of justice, beauty, and 
benefit to the individuals actually found there. Monarchs and 
heroes, sages and lovers, these gallants are not. Fashion has many 
classes and many rules of probation and admission; and not the 
best alone. There is not only the right of conquest, which genius 
pretends, — the individual, demonstrating his natural aristocracy best 
of the best; — but less claims will pass for the time; for Fashion loves 
lions, and points, like Circe, to her horned company. This gentle- 
man is this afternoon arrived from Denmark; and that is my Lx)rd 
Ride, who came yesterday from Bagdat; here is Captain Friese, from 
Cape Turnagain; and Captain Symmes, from the interior of the 
earth; and Monsieur Jovaire, who came down this morning in a 
balloon; Mr. Hobnail, the reformer; and Reverend Jul Bat, who has 
converted the whole torrid zone in his Sunday-school; and Signor 
Torre del Greco, who extinguished Vesuvius by pouring into it the 
Bay of Naples; Spahi, the Persian ambassador; and Tul Wil Shan, 
the exiled nabob of Nepaul, whose saddle is the new moon. — But 
these are monsters of one day, and to-morrow will be dismissed to 
their holes and dens; for, in these rooms, every chair is waited for. 
The artist, the scholar, and, in general, the clerisy wins its way up 
into these places, and gets represented here, somewhat on this footing 
of conquest. Another mode is to pass through all the degrees, spend- 
ing a year and a day in St. Michael's Square, being steeped in Co- 
logne water, and perfumed, and dined, and introduced, and properly 
grounded in all the biography, and politics, and anecdotes of the 
boudoirs. 

Yet these fineries may have grace and wit. Let there be grotesque 
sculpture about the gates and offices of temples. Let the creed and 



MANNERS 213 

commandments even have the saucy homage of parody. The forms 
of poUteness universally express benevolence in superlative degrees. 
What if they are in the mouths of selfish men, and used as means 
of selfishness? What if the false gentleman almost bows the true 
out of the world? What if the false gentleman contrives so to ad- 
dress his companion, as civilly to exclude all others from his dis- 
course, and also to make them feel excluded ? Real service will not 
lose its nobleness. All generosity is not merely French and senti- 
mental; nor is it to be concealed, that living blood and a passion 
of kindness does at last distinguish God's gentleman from Fashion's. 
The epitaph of Sir Jenkin Grout is not wholly unintelligible to the 
present age. "Here lies Sir Jenkin Grout, who loved his friend, and 
persuaded his enemy: what his mouth ate, his hand paid for: what 
his servants robbed, he restored: if a woman gave him pleasure, he 
supported her in pain: he never forgot his children: and whoso 
touched his finger, drew after it his whole body." Even the line of 
heroes is not utterly extinct. There is still ever some admirable per- 
son in plain clothes, standing on the wharf, who jumps in to rescue 
a drowning man; there is still some absurd inventor of charities; 
some guide and comforter of runaway slaves; some friend of Poland; 
some Philhellene; some fanatic who plants shade-trees for the second 
and third generation, and orchards when he is grown old; some 
well<oncealed piety; some just man happy in an ill-fame; some 
youth ashamed of the favors of fortune, and impatiently casting 
them on other shoulders. And these are the centres of society, on 
which it returns for fresh impulses. These are the creators of Fash- 
ion, which is an attempt to organize beauty of behavior. The beauti- 
ful and the generous are, in the theory, the doctors and apostles of 
this church : Scipio, and the Cid, and Sir Philip Sidney, and Wash- 
ington, and every pure and valiant heart, who worshipped Beauty 
by word and by deed. The persons who constitute the natural 
aristocracy, are not found in the actual aristocracy, or, only on its 
edge; as the chemical energy of the spectrum is found to be greatest 
just outside of the spectrum. Yet that is the infirmity of the senes- 
chals, who do not know their sovereign, when he appears. The 
theory of society supposes the existence and sovereignty of these. It 
divines afar off their coming. It says with the elder gods, — 



214 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

As Heaven and Earth are fairer far 

Than Chaos and blank Darkness, though once chiefs; 

And as we show beyond that Heaven and Earth, 

In form and shapx; compact and beautiful; 

So, on our heels a fresh perfection treads; 

A power, more strong in beauty, born of us, 

And fated to excel us, as we pass 

In glory that old Darkness: 

for, 'tis the eternal law. 

That first in beauty shall be first in might. 

Therefore, within the ethnical circle of good society, there is a 
narrower and higher circle, concentration of its light, and flower of 
courtesy, to which there is always a tacit appeal of pride and refer- 
ence, as to its inner and imperial court, the parliament of love and 
chivalry. And this is constituted of those persons in whom heroic 
dispositions are native, with the love of beauty, the delight in society, 
and the power to embellish the passing day. If the individuals who 
compose the purest circles of aristocracy in Eurojje, the guarded 
blood of centuries, should pass in review, in such manner as that 
we could, at leisure, and critically inspect their behavior, we might 
find no gentleman, and no lady; for, although excellent specimens 
of courtesy and high-breeding would gratify us in the assemblage, 
in the particulars, we should detect offence. Because, elegance comes 
of no breeding, but of birth. There must be romance of character, 
or the most fastidious exclusion of impertinences will not avail. It 
must be genius which takes that direction : it must be not courteous, 
but courtesy. High behavior is as rare in fiction, as it is in fact. 
Scott is praised for the fidelity with which he painted the demeanor 
and conversation of the superior classes. Certainly, kings and queens, 
nobles and great ladies, had some right to complain of the absurdity 
that had been put in their mouths, before the days of Waverley; 
but neither does Scott's dialogue bear criticism. His lords brave 
each other in smart epigrammatic speeches, but the dialogue is in 
costume, and does not please on the second reading: it is not warm 
with life. In Shakspeare alone, the speakers do not strut and bridle, 
the dialogue is easily great, and he adds to so many titles that of 
being the best-bred man in England, and in Christendom. Once 
or twice in a lifetime we are permitted to enjoy the charm of noble 



MANNERS 215 

manners, in the presence of a man or woman who have no bar in 
their nature, but whose character emanates freely in their word and 
gesture. A beautiful form is better than a beautiful face; a beautiful 
behavior is better than a beautiful form: it gives a higher pleasure 
than statues or pictures; it is the finest of the fine arts. A man is but 
a litde thing in the midst of the objects of nature, yet, by the 
moral quality radiating from his countenance, he may aboUsh all 
considerations of magnitude, and in his manners equal the majesty 
of the world. I have seen an individual, whose manners, though 
wholly within the conventions of elegant society, were never learned 
there, but were original and commanding, and held out protec- 
tion and prosperity; one who did not need the aid of a court-suit, 
but carried the holiday in his eye; who exhilarated the fancy by 
flinging wide the doors of new modes of existence; who shook off the 
captivity of etiquette, with happy, spirited bearing, good-natured and 
free as Robin Hood; yet with the port of an emperor, — if need be, 
calm, serious, and fit to stand the gaze of millions. 

The open air and the fields, the street and public chambers, are the 
places where Man executes his will; let him yield or divide the 
sceptre at the door of the house. Woman, with her instinct of be- 
havior, instantly detects in man a love of trifles, any coldness or 
imbecility, or, in short, any want of that large, flowing, and magnani- 
mous deportment, which is indispensable as an exterior in the hall. 
Our American institutions have been friendly to her, and at this 
moment, I esteem it a chief felicity of this country, that it excels in 
women. A certain awkward consciousness of inferiority in the men, 
may give rise to the new chivalry in behalf of Woman's Rights. 
Certainly, let her be as much better placed in the laws and in social 
forms, as the most zealous reformer can ask, but I confide so entirely 
in her inspiring and musical nature, that I believe only herself can 
show us how she shall be served. The wonderful generosity of her 
sentiments raises her at times into heroical and godlike regions, and 
verifies the pictures of Minerva, Juno, or Polymnia; and, by the firm- 
ness with which she treads her upward path, she convinces the coars- 
est calculators that another road exists, than that which their feet 
know. But besides those who make good in our imagination the 
place of muses and of Delphic Sibyls, are there not women who fill 



2l6 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

our vase with wine and roses to the brim, so that the wine runs 
over and fills the house with perfume; who inspire us with courtesy; 
who unloose our tongues, and we speak; who anoint our eyes, and 
we see? We say things we never thought to have said; for once, our 
walls of habitual reserve vanished, and left us at large; we were chil- 
dren playing with children in a wide field of flowers. Steep us, we 
cried, in these influences, for days, for weeks, and we shall be sunny 
poets, and will write out in many<olored words the romance that 
you are. Was it Hafiz or Firdousi that said of his Persian Lilla, 
She was an elemental force, and astonished me by her amount of 
life, when I saw her day after day radiating, every instant, redundant 
joy and grace on all around her. She was a solvent powerful to recon- 
cile all heterogeneous persons into one society: like air or water, an 
element of such a great range of affinities, that it combines readily 
with a thousand substances. Where she is present, all others will 
be more than they are wont. She was a unit and whole, so that what- 
soever she did, became her. She had too much sympathy and desire 
to please, than that you could say, her manners were marked with 
dignity, yet no princess could surpass her clear and erect demeanor 
on each occasion. She did not study the Persian grammar, nor the 
books of the seven poets, but all the poems of the seven seemed to be 
written upon her. For, though the bias of her nature was not to 
thought, but to sympathy, yet was she so perfect in her own nature, 
as to meet intellectual persons by the fulness of her heart, warming 
them by her sentiments; believing, as she did, that by dealing nobly 
with all, all would show themselves noble. 

I know that this Byzantine pile of chivalry or Fashion, which 
seems so fair and picturesque to those who look at the contemporary 
facts for science or for entertainment, is not equally pleasant to all 
spectators. The constitution of our society makes it a giant's castle 
to the ambitious youth who have not found their names enrolled in 
its Golden Book, and whom it has excluded from its coveted honors 
and privileges. They have yet to learn that its seeming grandeur is 
shadowy and relative: it is great by their allowance: its proudest 
gates will fly open at the approach of their courage and virtue. For 
the present distress, however, of those who are predisposed to suffer 



MANNERS 217 

from the tyrannies of this caprice, there are easy remedies. To remove 
your residence a couple of miles, or at most four, will commonly 
relieve the most extreme susceptibility. For, the advantages which 
fashion values, are plants which thrive in very confined localities, in a 
few streets, namely. Out of this precinct, they go for nothing; are 
of no use in the farm, in the forest, in the market, in war, in the 
nuptial society, in the literary or scientific circle, at sea, in friendship, 
in the heaven of thought or virtue. 

But we have lingered long enough in these painted courts. The 
worth of the thing signified must vindicate our taste for the emblem. 
Everything that is called fashion and courtesy humbles itself before 
the cause and fountain of honor, creator of titles and dignities, 
namely, the heart of love. This is the royal blood, this is the fire, 
which, in all countries and contingencies, will work after its kind, 
and conquer and expand all that approaches it. This gives new 
meanings to every fact. This impoverishes the rich, suffering no 
grandeur but its own. What is rich .'' Are you rich enough to help 
anybody ? to succor the unfashionable and the eccentric ? rich enough 
to make the Canadian in his wagon, the itinerant with his consul's 
paper which commends him "To the charitable," the swarthy Italian 
with his few broken words of English, the lame pauper hunted by 
overseers from town to town, even the poor insane or besotted wreck 
of man or woman, feel the noble exception of your presence and your 
house, from the general bleakness and stoniness; to make such feel 
that they were greeted with a voice which made them both remem- 
ber and hope? What is vulgar, but to refuse the claim on acute and 
conclusive reasons? What is gentle, but to allow it, and give their 
heart and yours one holiday from the national caution? Without 
the rich heart, wealth is an ugly beggar. The king of Schiraz could 
not afford to be so bountiful as the poor Osman who dwelt at his 
gate. Osman had a humanity so broad and deep, that although his 
speech was so bold and free with the Koran, as to disgust all the 
dervishes, yet was there never a poor outcast, eccentric, or insane 
man, some fool who had cut off his beard, or who had been mutilated 
under a vow, or had a pet madness in his brain, but fled at once to 
him, — that great heart lay there so sunny and hospitable in the centre 
of the country, that it seemed as if the instinct of all sufferers drew 



2l8 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

them to his side. And the madness which he harbored, he did not 
share. Is not this to be rich? this only to be rightly rich? 

But I shall hear without pain, that I play the courtier very ill, and 
talk o£ that which I do not well understand. It is easy to see, that 
what is called by distinction society and fashion, has good laws as 
well as bad, has much that is necessary, and much that is absurd. 
Too good for banning, and too bad for blessing, it reminds us of a 
tradition of the pagan mythology, in any attempt to settle its char- 
acter. "I overheard Jove, one day," said Silenus, "talking of destroying 
the earth; he said, it had failed; they were all rogues and vixens, who 
went from bad to worse, as fast as the days succeeded each other. 
Minerva said, she hoped not; they were only ridiculous little crea- 
tures, with this odd circumstance, that they had a blur, or indetermi- 
nate asjject, seen far or seen near; if you called them bad, they would 
appear so; if you called them good, they would appear so; and there 
was no person or action among them, which would not puzzle her 
owl, much more all Olympus, to know whether it was fundamen- 
tally bad or good." 



GIFTS 

(1844) 

Gifts of one who loved me, — 
Twas high time they came; 
When he ceased to love me. 
Time they stopped for shame. 

IT is said that the world is in a state of bankruptcy, that the 
world owes the world more than the world can pay, and ought 
to go into chancery, and be sold. I do not think this general 
insolvency, which involves in some sort all the population, to be the 
reason of the difficulty experienced at Christmas and New Year, and 
other times, in bestowing gifts; since it is always so pleasant to be 
generous, though very vexatious to pay debts. But the impediment 
lies in the choosing. If, at any time, it comes into my head, that a 
present is due from me to somebody, I am puzzled what to give, 
until the opportunity is gone. Flowers and fruits are always fit 
presents; flowers, because they are a proud assertion that a ray of 
beauty outvalues all the utilities of the world. These gay natures 
contrast with the somewhat stern countenance of ordinary nature: 
they are like music heard out of a work-house. Nature does not 
cocker us: we are children, not pets: she is not fond: everything is 
dealt to us without fear or favor, after severe universal laws. Yet 
these delicate flowers look like the frolic and interference of love 
and beauty. Men use to tell us that we love flattery, even though we 
are not deceived by it, because it shows that we are of importance 
enough to be courted. Something like that pleasure, the flowers give 
us: what am I to whom these sweet hints are addressed? Fruits are 
acceptable gifts, because they are the flower of commodities, and 
admit of fantastic values being attached to them. If a man should 
send to me to come a hundred miles to visit him, and should set 
before me a basket of fine summer-fruit, I should think there was 
some proportion between the labor and the reward. 

219 



220 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

For common gifts, necessity makes pertinences and beauty every 
day, and one is glad when an imperative leaves him no option, since 
if the man at the door have no shoes, you have not to consider 
whether you could procure him a paint-box. And as it is always 
pleasing to see a man eat bread, or drink water, in the house or out 
of doors, so it is always a great satisfaction to supply these first wants. 
Necessity does everything well. In our condition of universal de- 
pendence, it seems heroic to let the petitioner be the judge of his 
necessity, and to give all that is asked, though at great inconvenience. 
If it be a fantastic desire, it is better to leave to others the office of 
punishing him. I can think of many parts I should prefer playing to 
that of the Furies. Next to things of necessity, the rule for a gift, 
which one of my friends prescribed, is, that we might convey to 
some person that which properly belonged to his character, and was 
easily associated with him in thought. But our tokens of compliment 
and love are for the most part barbarous. Rings and other jewels are 
not gifts, but apologies for gifts. The only gift is a portion of thyself. 
Thou must bleed for me. Therefore the p)oet brings his poem; the 
shepherd, his lamb; the farmer, corn; the miner, a gem; the sailor, 
coral and shells; the painter, his picture; the girl, a handkerchief of 
her own sewing. This is right and pleasing, for it restores society in 
so far to its primary basis, when a man's biography is conveyed in his 
gift, and every man's wealth is an index of his merit. But it is a cold, 
lifeless business when you go to the shops to buy me something, 
which does not represent your Ufe and talent, but a goldsmith's. This 
is fit for kings, and rich men who represent kings, and a false state 
of property, to make presents of gold and silver stuffs, as a kind of 
symbolical sin-offering, or payment of black-mail. 

The law of benefits is a difficult channel, which requires careful 
sailing, or rude boats. It is not the office of a man to receive gifts. 
How dare you give them ? We wish to be self-sustained. We do not 
quite forgive a giver. The hand that feeds us is in some danger of 
being bitten. We can receive anything from love, for that is a way of 
receiving it from ourselves; but not from any one who assumes to 
bestow. We sometimes hate the meat which we eat, because there 
seems something of degrading dependence in living by it. 



GIFTS 221 

Brother, if Jove to thee a present make, 

Take heed that from his hands thou nothing take. 

We ask the whole. Nothing less will content us. We arraign society, 
if it do not give us besides earth, and (ire, and water, opf)ortunity, 
love, reverence, and objects of veneration. 

He is a good man who can receive a gift well. We are either glad 
or sorry at a gift, and both emotions are unbecoming. Some violence, 
I think, is done, some degradation borne, when I rejoice or grieve at 
a gift. I am sorry when my independence is invaded or when a gift 
comes from such as do not know my spirit, and so the act is not 
supported; and if the gift pleases me overmuch, then I should be 
ashamed that the donor should read my heart, and see that I love his 
commodity and not him. The gift, to be true, must be the flowing 
of the giver unto me, correspondent to my flowing unto him. When 
the waters are at level, then my goods pass to him, and his to me. 
All his are mine, all mine his. I say to him, How can you give me 
this fXJt of oil, or this flagon of wine, when all your oil and wine is 
mine, which belief of mine this gift seems to deny ? Hence the fitness 
of beautiful, not useful things for gifts. This giving is flat usurpation, 
and therefore when the beneficiary is ungrateful, as all beneficiaries 
hate all Timons, not at all considering the value of the gift, but look- 
ing back to the greater store it was taken from, I rather sympathize 
with the beneficiary, than with the anger of my lord Timon. For, the 
expectation of gratitude is mean, and is continually punished by the 
total insensibility of the obliged person. It is a great happiness to get 
off without injury and heart-burning, from one who has had the ill 
luck to be served by you. It is a very onerous business, this of being 
served, and the debtor naturally wishes to give you a slap. A golden 
text for these gentlemen is that which I so admire in the Buddhist, 
who never thanks, and who says, "Do not flatter your benefactors." 

The reason of these discords I conceive to be, that there is no com- 
mensurability between a man and any gift. You cannot give any- 
thing to a magnanimous person. After you have served him, he at 
once puts you in debt by his magnanimity. The service a man ren- 
ders his friend is trivial and selfish, compared with the service he 
knows his friend stood in readiness to yield him, alike before he had 



222 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

begun to serve his friend, and now also. Compared with that good- 
will I bear my friend, the benefit it is in my power to render him 
seems small. Besides, our action on each other, good as well as evil, 
is so incidental and at random, that we can seldom hear the acknowl- 
edgments of any person who would thank us for a benefit, without 
some shame and humiliation. We can rarely strike a direct stroke, 
but must be content with an oblique one; we seldom have the satis- 
faction of yielding a direct benefit, which is directly received. But 
rectitude scatters favors on every side without knowing it, and 
receives with wonder the thanks of all people. 

I fear to breathe any treason against the majesty of love, which is 
the genius and god of gifts, and to whom we must not affect to pre- 
scribe. Let him give kingdoms or flower-leaves indifferently. There 
are persons, from whom we always expect fairy tokens; let us not 
cease to expect them. This is prerogative, and not to be limited by 
our municipal rules. For the rest, I like to see that we cannot be 
bought and sold. The best of hospitality and of generosity is also not 
in the will but in fate. I find that I am not much to you; you do not 
need me; you do not feel me; then am I thrust out of doors, though 
you proffer me house and lands. No services are of any value, but 
only likeness. When I have attempted to join myself to others by 
services, it proved an intellectual trick, — no more. They eat your 
service like apples, and leave you out. But love them, and they feel 
you, and delight in you all the time. 



NATURE 

(1844) 

The rounded world is fair to see. 

Nine time folded in mystery: 

Though bafBed seers cannot impart 

The secret of its laboring heart, 

Throb thine with Nature's throbbing breast. 

And all is clear from east to west, 

Spirit that lurks each form within 

Beckons to spirit of its kin; 

Self-kindled every atom glows. 

And hints the future which it owes. 

THERE are days which occur in this climate, at almost any 
season of the year, wherein the world reaches its perfection, 
when the air, the heavenly bodies, and the earth, make a 
harmony, as if nature would indulge her offspring; when, in these 
bleak upper sides of the planet, nothing is to desire that we have 
heard of the happiest latitudes, and we bask in the shining hours o£ 
Florida and Cuba; when everything that has life gives sign of satis- 
faction, and the cattle that lie on the ground seem to have great and 
tranquil thoughts. These halcyons may be looked for with a little 
more assurance in that pure October weather, which we distinguish 
by the name of the Indian Summer. The day, immeasurably long, 
sleeps over the broad hills and warm wide fields. To have lived 
through all its sunny hours, seems longevity enough. The solitary 
places do not seem quite lonely. At the gates of the forest, the sur- 
prised man of the world is forced to leave his city estimates of great 
and small, wise and foolish. The knapsack of custom falls off his 
back with the first step he makes into these precincts. Here is sanc- 
tity which shames our religions, and reality which discredits our 
heroes. Here we find nature to be the circumstance which dwarfs 
every other circumstance, and judges like a god all men that come 
to her. We have crept out of our close and crowded houses into the 

"3 



224 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

night and morning, and we see what majestic beauties daily wrap 
us in their bosom. How willingly we would escape the barriers 
which render them comparatively impotent, escape the sophistication 
and second thought, and suffer nature to entrance us. The tempered 
light of the woods is like a perpetual morning, and is stimulating and 
heroic. The anciently reported spells of these places creep on us. The 
stems of pines, hemlocks, and oaks, almost gleam like iron on the 
excited eye. The incommunicable trees begin to persuade us to live 
with them, and quit our life of solemn trifles. Here no history, or 
church, or state, is interpolated on the divine sky and the immortal 
year. How easily we might walk onward into the opening land- 
scape, absorbed by new pictures, and by thoughts fast succeeding 
each other, until by degrees the recollection of home was crowded 
out of the mind, all memory obliterated by the tyranny of the pres- 
ent, and we were led in triumph by nature. 

These enchantments are medicinal, they sober and heal us. These 
are plain pleasures, kindly and native to us. We come to our own, 
and make friends with matter, which the ambitious chatter of the 
schools would persuade us to despise. We never can part with it; 
the mind loves its old home: as water to our thirst, so is the rock, the 
ground, to our eyes, and hands, and feet. It is firm water: it is cold 
flame: what health, what affinity! Ever an old friend, ever like a dear 
friend and brother, when we chat affectedly with strangers, comes in 
this honest face, and takes a grave liberty with us, and shames us 
out of our nonsense. Cities give not the human senses room enough. 
We go out daily and nightly to feed the eyes on the horizon, and 
require so much scof)e, just as we need water for our bath. There 
are all degrees of natural influence, from these quarantine [xjwers of 
nature, up to her dearest and gravest ministrations to the imagination 
and the soul. There is the bucket of cold water from the spring, the 
wood-fire to which the chilled traveller rushes for safety, — and there 
is the subHme moral of autumn and of noon. We nestle in nature, 
and draw our living as parasites from her roots and grains, and we 
receive glances from the heavenly bodies, which calls us to solitude, 
and fortell the remotest future. The blue zenith is the point in which 
romance and reality meet. I think, if we should be rapt away into 
all that we dream of heaven, and should converse with Gabriel and 



NATURE 225 

Uriel, the upper sky would be all that would remain of our furniture. 
It seems as if the day was not wholly profane, in which we have 
given heed to some natural object. The fall of snowflakes in a still 
air, preserving to each crystal its perfect form; the blowing of sleet 
over a wide sheet of water, and over plains, the waving rye-field, the 
mimic waving of acres of houstonia, whose innumerable florets 
whiten and ripple before the eye; the reflections of trees and flowers 
in glassy lakes; the musical steaming odorous south wind, which con- 
verts all trees to windharps; the crackling and spurting of hemlock 
in the flames; or of pine logs, which yield glory to the walls and 
faces in the sitting-room, — these are the music and pictures of the 
most ancient religion. My house stands in low land, with limited 
outlook, and on the skirt of the village. But I go with my friend to 
the shore of our litde river; and with one stroke of the paddle, I 
leave the village politics and personalities, yes, and the world of vil- 
lages and personalities behind, and pass into a delicate realm of 
sunset and moonlight, too bright almost for spotted man to enter 
without noviciate and probation. We penetrate bodily this incredible 
beauty : we dip our hands in this painted element : our eyes are bathed 
in these lights and forms. A holiday, a villeggiatura, a royal revel, 
the proudest, most heart-rejoicing festival that valor and beauty, 
power and taste, ever decked and enjoyed, establishes itself on the 
instant. These sunset clouds, these delicately emerging stars, with 
their private and ineffable glances, signify it and proffer it. I am 
taught the poorness of our invention, the ugliness of towns and 
palaces. Art and luxury have early learned that they must work as 
enchantment and sequel to this original beauty. I am over-instructed 
for my return. Henceforth I shall be hard to please. I cannot go 
back to toys. I am grown expensive and sophisticated. I can no 
longer live without elegance: but a countryman shall be my master 
of revels. He who knows the most, he who knows what sweets and 
virtues are in the ground, the waters, the plants, the heavens, and 
how to come to these enchantments, is the rich and royal man. Only 
as far as the masters of the world have called in nature to their aid, 
can they reach the height of magnificence. This is the meaning of 
their hanging gardens, villas, garden-houses, islands, parks, and 
preserves, to back their faulty personality with these strong acces- 



226 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

sories. I do not wonder that the landed interest should be invincible 
in the state with these dangerous auxiliaries. These bribe and invite; 
not kings, not palaces, not men, not women, but these tender and 
poetic stars, eloquent of secret promises. We heard what the rich 
man said, we knew of his villa, his grove, his wine, and his company, 
but the provocation and point of the invitation came out of these 
beguiling stars. In their soft glances, I see what men strove to realize 
in some Versailles, or Paphos, or Ctesiphon. Indeed, it is the magical 
lights of the horizon, and the blue sky for the background, which 
save all our works of art, which were otherwise bawbles. When the 
rich tax the poor with serviUty and obsequiousness, they should con- 
sider the effect of men reputed to be the possessors of nature, on 
imaginative minds. Ah! if the rich were rich as the poor fancy 
riches! A boy hears a military band play on the field at night, and he 
has kings and queens, and famous chivalry palpably before him. 
He hears the echoes of a horn in a hill country, in the Notch Moun- 
tains, for example, which converts the mountains into an .^Eolian 
harp, and this supernatural tiralira restores to him the Dorian my- 
thology, Apollo, Diana, and all divine hunters, and huntresses. Can 
a musical note be so lofty, so haughtily beautiful! To the poor young 
poet, thus fabulous is his picture of society; he is loyal; he respects the 
rich; they are rich for the sake of his imagination; how poor his 
fancy would be, if they were not rich! That they have some high- 
fenced grove, which they call a park; that they live in larger and 
better-garnished saloons than he has visited, and go in coaches, keep- 
ing only the society of the elegant, to watering-places, and to distant 
cities, are the groundwork from which he has delineated estates of 
romance, compared with which their actual possessions are shanties 
and paddocks. The muse herself betrays her son, and enhances the 
gifts of wealth and well-born beauty, by a radiation out of the air, 
and clouds, and forests that skirt the road, — a certain haughty favor, 
as if from patrician genii to patricians, a kind of aristocracy in nature, 
a prince of the power of the air. 

The moral sensibility which makes Edens and Tempes so easily, 
may not be always found, but the material landscape is never far off. 
We can find these enchantments without visiting the Como Lake, or 
the Madeira Islands. We exaggerate the praises of local scenery. In 



NATURE 227 

every landscape, the point of astonishment is the meeting of the sky 
and the earth, and that is seen from the first hillock as well as from 
the top of the Alleghanies. The stars at night stoop down over the 
brownest, homeliest common, with all the spiritual magnificence 
which they shed on the Campagna, or on the marble deserts of 
Egypt. The uproUed clouds and the colors of morning and evening, 
will transfigure maples and alders. The difference between landscape 
and landscape is small, but there is great difference in the beholders. 
There is nothing so wonderful in any particular landscape, as the 
necessity of being beautiful under which every landscape lies. Nature 
cannot be surprised in undress. Beauty breaks in everywhere. 

But it is very easy to outrun the sympathy of readers on this topic, 
which schoolmen called natura naturata, or nature passive. One can 
hardly speak directly of it without excess. It is as easy to broach in 
mixed companies what is called "the subject of religion." A suscep- 
tible person does not like to indulge his tastes in this kind, without 
the apology of some trivial necessity: he goes to see a wood-lot, or 
to look at the crops, or to fetch a plant or a mineral from a remote 
locality, or he carries a fowling-piece, or a fishing-rod. I suppose 
this shame must have a good reason. A dilettantism in nature is 
barren and unworthy. The fop of fields is no better than his brother 
of Broadway. Men are naturally hunters and inquisitive of wood- 
craft, and I suppose that such a gazetteer as wood<utters and Indians 
should furnish facts for, would take place in the most sumptuous 
drawing-rooms of all the "Wreaths" and "Flora's chaplets" of the 
book-shops; yet ordinarily, whether we are too clumsy for so subtle 
a topic, or from whatever cause, as soon as men begin to write on 
nature, they fall into euphuism. Frivolity is a most unfit tribute to 
Pan, who ought to be represented in the mythology as the most con- 
tinent of gods. I would not be frivolous before the admirable reserve 
and prudence of time, yet I cannot renounce the right of returning 
often to this old topic. The multitude of false churches accredits the 
true religion. Literature, poetry, science, are the homage of man to 
this unfathomed secret, concerning which no sane man can affect 
an indifference or incuriosity. Nature is loved by what is best in us. 
It is loved as the city of God, although, or rather because there is no 
citizen. The sunset is unlike anything that is underneath it : it wants 



228 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

men. And the beauty of nature must always seem unreal and mock- 
ing, until the landscape has human figures, that are as good as itself. 
If there were good men, there would never be this rapture in nature. 
If the king is in the palace, nobody looks at the walls. It is when he 
is gone, and the house is filled with grooms and gazers, that we turn 
from the f)eople, to find relief in the majestic men that are suggested 
by the pictures and the architecture. The critics who complain of the 
sickly separation of the beauty of nature from the thing to be done, 
must consider that our hunting of the picturesque is inseparable from 
our protest against false society. Man is fallen; nature is erect, and 
serves as a differential thermometer, detecting the presence or absence 
of the divine sentiment in man. By fault of our dulness and selfish- 
ness, we are looking up to nature, but when we are convalescent, 
nature will look up to us. We see the foaming brook with compunc- 
tion: if our own life flowed v.ith the right energy, we should shame 
the brook. The stream of zeal sparkles with real fire, and not with 
reflex rays of sun and moon. Nature may be as selfishly studied as 
trade. Astronomy to the selfish becomes astrology. Psychology, mes- 
merism (with intent to show where our spoons are gone); and 
anatomy and physiology, become phrenology and palmistry. 

But taking timely warning, and leaving many things unsaid on 
this topic, let us not longer omit our homage to the Efficient Nature, 
natura naturans, the quick cause, before which all forms flee as the 
driven snows, itself secret, its works driven before it in flocks and 
multitudes, (as the ancient represented nature by Proteus, a shep- 
herd,) and in undescribable variety. It publishes itself in creatures, 
reaching from particles and spicula, through transformation on trans- 
formation to the highest symmetries, arriving at consummate results 
without a shock or a leap. A little heat, that is, a little motion, is all 
that differences the bald, dazzling white, and deadly cold poles of 
the earth from the prolific tropical climates. All changes pass with- 
out violence, by reason of the two cardinal conditions of boundless 
space and boundless time. Geology has initiated us into the secularity 
of nature, and taught us to disuse our dame-school measures, and 
exchange our Mosaic and Ptolemaic schemes for her large style. We 
knew nothing rightly, for want of perspective. Now we learn what 
patient periods must round themselves before the rock is formed, 



NATURE 229 

then before the rock is broken, and the first lichen race has disinte- 
grated the thinnest external plate into soil, and opened the door for 
the remote Flora, Fauna, Ceres, and Pomona, to come in. How far 
off yet is the trilobite! how far the quadruped! how inconceivably 
remote is man! All duly arrive, and then race after race of men. It 
is a long way from granite to the oyster; farther yet to Plato, and 
the preaching of the immortality of the soul. Yet all must come, as 
surely as the first atom has two sides. 

Motion or change, and identity or rest, are the first and second 
secrets of nature: Motion and Rest. The whole code of her laws may 
be written on the thumbnail, or the signet of a ring. The whirling 
bubble on the surface of a brook, admits us to the secret of the 
mechanics of the sky. Every shell on the beach is a key to it. A little 
water made to rotate in a cup explains the formation of the simpler 
shells; the addition of matter from year to year, arrives at last at the 
most complex form; and yet so poor is nature with all her craft, that, 
from the beginning to the end of the universe, she has but one stuff, 
— but one stuff with its two ends, to serve up all her dream-like 
variety. Compound it how she will, star, sand, fire, water, tree, man, 
it is still one stuff, and betrays the same properties. 

Nature is always consistent, though she feigns to contravene her 
own laws. She keeps her laws, and seems to transcend them. She 
arms and equips an animal to find its place and living in the earth, 
and, at the same time, she arms and equips another animal to destroy 
it. Space exists to divide creatures; but by clothing the sides of a bird 
with a few feathers, she gives him a petty omnipresence. The direc- 
tion is forever onward, but the artist still goes back for materials, and 
begins again with the first elements on the most advanced stage: 
otherwise, all goes to ruin. If we look at her work, we seem to catch 
a glance of a system in transition. Plants are the young of the world, 
vessels of health and vigor; but they grope ever upward toward con- 
sciousness; the trees are imperfect men, and seem to bemoan their 
imprisonment, rooted in the ground. The animal is the novice and 
probationer of a more advanced order. The men, though young, 
having tasted the first drop from the cup of thought, are already 
dissipated: the maples and ferns are still uncorrupt; yet no doubt, 
when they come to consciousness, they too will curse and swear. 



230 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

Flowers so strictly belong to youth, that we adult men soon come to 
feel, that their beautiful generations concern not us: we have had our 
day; now let the children have theirs. The flowers jilt us, and we are 
old bachelors with our ridiculous tenderness. 

Things are so strictly related, that according to the skill of the eye, 
from any one object the parts and properties of any other may be 
predicted. If we had eyes to see it, a bit of stone from the city wall 
would certify us of the necessity that man must exist, as readily as the 
city. That identity makes us all one, and reduces to nothing great 
intervals on our customary scale. We talk of deviations from natural 
life, as if artificial life were not also natural. The smoothest curled 
courtier in the boudoirs of a palace has an animal nature, rude and 
aboriginal as a white bear, omnipotent to its own ends, and is directly 
related, there amid essences and billets-doux, to Himmaleh mountain- 
chains, and the axis of the globe. If we consider how much we are 
nature's, we need not be superstitious about towns, as if that terrific 
or benefic force did not find us there also, and fashion cities. Nature 
who made the mason, made the house. We may easily hear too much 
of rural influences. The cool disengaged air of natural objects, makes 
them enviable to us, chafed and irritable creatures with red faces, and 
we think we shall be as grand as they, if we camp out and eat roots; 
but let us be men instead of woodchucks, and the oak and the elm 
shall gladly serve us, though we sit in chairs of ivory on carjiets of 
silk. 

This guilding identity runs through all the surprises and contrasts 
of the piece, and characterizes every law. Man carries the world in 
his head, the whole astronomy and chemistry suspended in a thought. 
Because the history of nature is charactered in his brain, therefore is 
he the prophet and discoverer of her secrets. Every known fact in 
natural science was divined by the presentiment of somebody, before 
it was actually verified. A man does not tie his shoe without recog- 
nizing laws which bind the farthest regions of nature: moon, plant, 
gas, crystal, are concrete geometry and numbers. Common sense 
knows its own, and recognizes the fact at first sight in chemical 
experiment. The common sense of Franklin, Dalton, Davy, and 
Black, is the same common sense which made the arrangements 
which now it discovers. 



NATURE 231 

If the identity expresses organized rest, the counter action runs 
also into organization. The astronomers said, "Give us matter and 
a little motion, and we will construct the universe. It is not enough 
that we should have matter, we must also have a single impulse, one 
shove to launch the mass, and generate the harmony of the centri- 
fugal and centripetal forces. Once heave the ball from the hand, 
and we can show how all this mighty order grew." — ^"A very unrea- 
sonable p)ostulate," said the metaphysicians, "and a plain begging of 
the question. Could you not prevail to know the genesis of projec- 
tion, as well as the continuation of it?" Nature, meanwhile, had not 
waited for the discussion, but, right or wrong, bestowed the impulse, 
and the balls rolled. It was no great affair, a mere push, but the 
astronomers were right in making much of it, for there is no end 
to the consequences of the act. That famous aboriginal push propa- 
gates itself through all the balls of the system, and through every 
atom of every ball, through all the races of creatures, and through 
the history and performances of every individual. Exaggeration is in 
the course of things. Nature sends no creature, no man into the 
world, without adding a small excess of his proper quality. Given 
the planet, it is still necessary to add the impulse; so, to every creature 
nature added a Uttle violence of direction in its proper path, a 
shove to put it on its way; in every instance, a slight generosity, a 
drop too much. Without electricity the air would rot, and without 
this violence of direction, which men and women have, without a 
spice of bigot and fanatic, no excitement, no efficiency. We aim 
above the mark, to hit the mark. Every act hath some falsehood 
of exaggeration in it. And when now and then comes along some 
sad, sharp-eyed man, who sees how paltry a game is played, and 
refuses to play, but blabs the secret; — how then? is the bird flown? 
O no, the wary Nature sends a new troop of fairer forms, of lordher 
youths, with a little more excess of direction to hold them fast to 
their several aim; makes them a little wrong-headed in that direction 
in which they are rightest, and on goes the game again with new 
whirl, for a generation or two more. The child with his sweet 
pranks, the fool of his senses, commanded by every sight and sound, 
without any power to compare and rank his sensations, abandoned 
to a whisde or a painted chip, to a lead dragoon, or a gingerbread 



232 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

dog, individualizing everything, generalizing nothing, delighted 
with every new thing, lies down at night overpowered by the fatigue, 
which this day of continual pretty madness has incurred. But Nature 
has answered her purpose with the curly, dimpled lunatic. She has 
tasked every faculty, and has secured the symmetrical growth of the 
bodily frame, by all these attitudes and exertions, — an end of the first 
importance, which could not be trusted to any care less perfect than 
her own. This glitter, this opaline lustre plays round the top of 
every toy to his eyes, to ensure his fidelity, and he is deceived to his 
good. We are made alive and kept alive by the same arts. Let the 
stoics say what they please, we do not eat for the good of living, but 
because the meat is savory and the appetite is keen. The vegetable 
life does not content itself with casting from the flower or the tree a 
single seed, but it fills the air and earth with a prodigality of seeds, 
that, if thousands p)erish, thousands may plant themselves, that 
hundreds may come up, that tens may live to maturity, that, at least, 
one may replace the parent. All things betray the same calculated 
profusion. The excess of fear with which the animal frame is 
hedged round, shrinking from cold, starting at sight of a snake, or at 
a sudden noise, protects us, through a multitude of groundless 
alarms, from some one real danger at last. The lover seeks in mar- 
riage his private felicity and perfection, with no prospective end; 
and nature hides in his happiness her own end, namely, progeny, 
or the f)erf)etuity of the race. 

But the craft with which the world is made, runs also into the 
mind and character of men. No man is quite sane; each has a vein 
of folly in his composition, a slight determination of blood to the 
head, to make sure of holding him hard to some one point which 
nature had taken to heart. Great causes are never tried on their 
merits; but the cause is reduced to particulars to suit the size of the 
partisans, and the contention is ever hottest on minor matters. Not 
less remarkable is the overfaith of each man in the importance of 
what he has to do or say. The poet, the prophet, has a higher value 
for what he utters than any hearer, and therefore it gets spoken. The 
strong, self<omplacent Luther declares with an emphasis, not to be 
mistaken, that "God himself cannot do without wise men." Jacob 
Behmen and George Fox betray their egotism in the pertinacity of 



NATURE 233 

their controversial tracts, and James Nayloi once suffered himself 
to be worshipped as the Christ. Each prophet comes presently to 
identify himself with his thought, and to esteem his hat and shoes 
sacred. However this may discredit such persons with the judicious, 
it helps them with the people, as it gives heat, pungency, and pub- 
licity to their words. A similar experience is not infrequent in private 
life. Each young and ardent person writes a diary, in which, when 
the hours of prayer and penitence arrive, he inscribes his soul. The 
pages thus written are, to him, burning and fragrant: he reads them 
on his knees by midnight and by the morning star; he wets them with 
his tears: they are sacred; too good for the world, and hardly yet to 
be shown to the dearest friend. This is the man<hild that is born to 
the soul, and her life still circulates in the babe. The umbilical cord 
has not yet been cut. After some time has elapsed, he begins to wish 
to admit his friend to this hallowed experience, and with hesitation, 
yet with firmness, exposes the pages to his view. Will they not burn 
his eyes? The friend coldly turns them over, and passes from the 
writing to conversation, with easy transition, which strikes the other 
party with astonishment and vexation. He cannot suspect the writ- 
ing itself. Days and nights of fervid life, of communion with angels 
of darkness and of light, have engraved their shadowy characters on 
that tear-stained book. He suspects the intelligence or the heart of 
his friend. Is there then no friend? He cannot yet credit that one 
may have impressive experience, and yet may not know how to put 
his private fact into literature; and perhaps the discovery that wis- 
dom has other tongues and ministers than we, that though we should 
hold our peace, the truth would not the less be spoken, might check 
injuriously the flames of our zeal. A man can only speak, so long as 
he does not feel his speech to be partial and inadequate. It is partial, 
but he does not see it to be so, whilst he utters it. As soon as he is 
released from the instinctive and particular, and sees its partiality, he 
shuts his mouth in disgust. For, no man can write anything, who 
does not think that what he writes is for the time the history of the 
world; or do anything well, who does not esteem his work to be of 
importance. My work may be of none, but I must not think it of 
none, or I shall not do it with impunity. 
In like manner, there is throughout nature something mocking. 



234 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

something that leads us on and on, but arrives nowhere, keeps no 
faith with us. All promise outruns the performance. We live in a 
system of approximations. Every end is prospective of some other 
end, which is also temporary; a round and final success nowhere. 
We are encamped in nature, not domesticated. Hunger and thirst 
lead us on to eat and to drink; but bread and wine, mix and cook 
them how you will, leave us hungry and thirsty, after the stomach is 
full. It is the same with all our arts and performances. Our music, 
our poetry, our language itself are not satisfactions, but suggestions. 
The hunger for wealth, which reduces the planet to a garden, fools 
the eager pursuer. What is the end sought? Plainly to secure the 
ends of good sense and beauty, from the intrusion of deformity or 
vulgarity of any kind. But what an operose method! What a train 
of means to secure a little conversation! This palace of brick and 
stone, these servants, this kitchen, these stables, horses and equipage, 
this bank-stock, and file of mortgages; trade to all the world, country- 
house and cottage by the waterside, all for a little conversation, high, 
clear, and spiritual! Could it not be had as well by beggars on the 
highway? No, all these things came from successive efforts of these 
beggars to remove friction from the wheels of life, and give oppor- 
tunity. Conversation, character, were the avowed ends; wealth was 
good as it apf)eased the animal cravings, cured the smoky chimney, 
silenced the creaking door, brought friends together in a warm and 
quiet room, and kept the children and the dinner-table in a different 
apartment. Thought, virtue, beauty, were the ends; but it was 
known that men of thought and virtue sometimes had the headache, 
or wet feet, or could lose good time whilst the room was getting 
warm in winter days. Unluckily, in the exertions necessary to re- 
move these inconveniences, the main attention has been diverted to 
this object; the old aims have been lost sight of, and to remove 
friction has come to be the end. That is the ridicule of rich men, and 
Boston, London, Vienna, and now the governments generally of the 
world, are cities and governments of the rich, and the masses are 
not men, but poor men, that is, men who would be rich; this is the 
ridicule of the class, that they arrive with pains and sweat and fury 
nowhere; when all is done, it is for nothing. They are like one who 
has interrupted the conversation of a company to make his speech, 



NATURE 235 

and now has forgotten what he meant to say. The appearance 
strikes the eye everywhere of an aimless society, of aimless nations. 
Were the ends of nature so great and cogent, as to exact this immense 
sacrifice of men ? 

Quite analogous to the deceits in life, there is, as might be expected, 
a similar effect on the eye from the face of external nature. There is 
in woods and waters a certain enticement and flattery, together with 
a failure to yield a present satisfaction. This disappointment is felt 
in every landscape. I have seen the softness and beauty of the sum- 
mer<louds floating feathery overhead, enjoying, as it seemed, their 
height and privilege of motion, whilst yet they appeared not so much 
the drapery of this place and hour, as for looking to some pavilions 
and gardens of festivity beyond. It is an odd jealousy: but the poet 
finds himself not near enough to his object. The pine-tree, the river, 
the bank of flowers before him, does not seem to be nature. Nature is 
still elsewhere. This or this is but outskirt and far-off reflection and 
echo of the triumph that has passed by, and is now at its glancing 
splendor and heyday, perchance in the neighboring fields, or, if 
you stand in the field, then in the adjacent woods. The present ob- 
ject shall give you this sense of stillness that follows a pageant which 
has just gone by. What splendid distance, what recesses of ineffable 
pomp and loveliness in the sunset! But who can go where they are, 
or lay his hand or plant his foot thereon? Off they fall from the 
round world forever and ever. It is the same among the men and 
women, as among the silent trees, always a referred existence, an 
absence, never a presence and satisfaction. Is it, that beauty can 
never be grasped? in persons and in landscape is equally inaccessible? 
The accepted and betrothed lover has lost the wildest charm of his 
maiden in her acceptance of him. She was heaven whilst he pursued 
her as a star : she cannot be heaven, if she stoops to such a one as he. 

What shall we say of this omnipresent appearance of that first pro- 
jectile impulse, of this flattery and balking of so many well-meaning 
creatures? Must we not suppose somewhere in the universe a slight 
treachery and derision ? Are we not engaged to a serious resentment 
of this use that is made of us? Are we tickled trout, and fools of 
nature ? One look at the face of heaven and earth lays all petulance 
at rest, and soothes us to wiser convictions. To the intelligent, nature 



236 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

converts itself into a vast promise, and will not be rashly explained. 
Her secret is untold. Many and many an CEdipus arrives: he has the 
whole mystery teeming in his brain. Alas! the same sorcery has 
spoiled his skill; no syllable can he shap)e on his lips. Her mighty 
orbit vaults like the fresh rainbow into the deep, but no archangel's 
wing was yet strong enough to follow it, and report of the return 
of the curve. But it also appears, that our actions are seconded and 
disposed to greater conclusions than we designed. We are escorted 
on every hand through life by spiritual agents, and a beneficent pur- 
pose lies in wait for us. We cannot bandy words with nature, or deal 
with her as we deal with persons. If we measure our individual 
forces against hers, we may easily feel as if we were the sport of an 
insuperable destiny. But if, instead of identifying ourselves with 
the work, we feel that the soul of the workman streams through 
us, we shall find the peace of the morning dwelling first in our 
hearts, and the fathomless powers of gravity and chemistry, and, 
over them, of life, pre-existing within us in their highest form. 

The uneasiness which the thought of our helplessness in the chain 
of causes occasions us, results from looking too much at one condi- 
tion of nature, namely. Motion. But the drag is never taken from 
the wheel. Whenever the impulse exceeds, the Rest or Identity insin- 
uates its compensation. All over the wide fields of earth grows the 
prunella or self-heal. After every foolish day we sleep off the fumes 
and furies of its hours; and though we are always engaged with 
particulars, and often enslaved to them, we bring with us to every 
experiment the innate universal laws. These, while they exist in the 
mind as ideas, stand around us in nature forever embodied, a present 
sanity to expose and cure the insanity of men. Our servitude to 
particulars betrays into a hundred foolish expectations. We antici- 
pate a new era from the invention of a locomotive, or a balloon; the 
new engine brings with it the old checks. They say that by electro- 
magnetism, your salad shall be grown from the seed, whilst your 
fowl is roasting for dinner: it is a symbol of our modern aims and 
endeavors, — of our condensation and acceleration of objects: but 
nothing is gained: nature cannot be cheated: man's life is but seventy 
salads long, grow they swift or grow they slow. In these checks and 
impossibilities, however, we find our advantage, not less than in the 



NATURE 237 

impulses. Let the victory fall where it will, we are on that side. And 
the knowledge that we traverse the whole scale of being, from the 
centre to the poles of nature, and have some stake in every possibility, 
lends that sublime lustre to death, which philosophy and religion have 
too outwardly and literally striven to express in the popular doctrine 
of the immortality of the soul. The reality is more excellent than the 
report. Here is no ruin, no discontinuity, no spent ball. The divine 
circulations never rest nor linger. Nature is the incarnation of a 
thought, and turns to a thought, again, as ice becomes water and 
gas. The world is mind precipitated, and the volatile essence is for- 
ever escaping again into the state of free thought. Hence the virtue 
and pungency of the influence on the mind, of natural objects, 
whether inorganic or organized. Man imprisoned, man crystallized, 
man vegetative, sp)eaks to man imjjersonated. That power which 
does not respect quantity, which makes the whole and the particle 
its equal channel, delegates its smile to the morning, and distils its 
essence into every drop of rain. Every moment instructs, and every 
object: for wisdom is infused into every form. It has been poured 
into us as blood; it convulsed us as pain; it slid into us as pleasure; 
it enveloped us in dull, melancholy days, or in days of cheerful labor; 
we did not guess its essence, until after a long time. 



POLITICS 

(1844) 

Gold and iron are good Phoebus stablish must. 

To buy iron and gold; When the Muses nine 

All earth's fleece and food With the Virtues meet, 

For their like are sold. Find to their design 

Boded Merlin wise, An Atlantic seat. 

Proved Napoleon great, — By green orchard boughs 

Nor kind nor coinage buys Fended from the heat. 

Aught above its rate. Where the statesman ploughs 

Fear, Craft, and Avarice Furrow for the wheat; 

Cannot rear a State. When the Church is social worth. 

Out of dust to build When the state-house is the hearth, 

What is more than dust, — Then the perfect State is come. 

Walls Amphion piled The republican at home. 

IN dealing with the State, we ought to remember that its institu- 
tions are not aboriginal, though they existed before we were 
born : that they are not superior to the citizen : that every one of 
them was once the act of a single man : every law and usage was a 
man's expedient to meet a particular case; that they all are imitable, 
all alterable; we may make as good; we may make better. Society 
is an illusion to the young citizen. It lies before him in rigid repose, 
with certain names, men, and institutions, rooted like oak-trees to 
the centre, round which all arrange themselves the best they can. 
But the old statesman knows that society is fluid; there are no such 
roots and centres; but any particle may suddenly become the centre 
of the movement, and compel the system to gyrate round it, as every 
man of strong will, like Pisistratus, or Cromwell, does for a time, 
and every man of truth, like Plato, or Paul, does forever. But politics 
rest on necessary foundations, and cannot be treated with levity. 
Republics abound in young civilians, who believe that the laws make 
the city, that grave modifications of the policy and modes of living, 
and employments of the population, that commerce, education, and 

239 



240 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

religion, may be voted in or out; and that any measure, though it 
were absurd, may be imposed on a people, if only you can get suf- 
ficient voices to make it a law. But the wise know that foolish legisla- 
tion is a rope of sand, which perishes in the twisting; that the State 
must follow, and not lead the character and progress of the citizen; 
the strongest usurper is quickly got rid of; and they only who built 
on Ideas, build for eternity; and that the form of government which 
prevails, is the expression of what cultivation exists in the pxjpulation 
which permits it. The law is only a memorandum. We are super- 
stitious, and esteem the statute somewhat: so much life as it has in 
the character of living men, is its force. The statute stands there to 
say, yesterday we agreed so and so, but how feel ye this article to-day ? 
Our statute is a currency, which we stamp with our own portrait: it 
soon becomes unrecognizable, and in process of time will return to 
the mint. Nature is not democratic, nor limited monarchical, but 
despotic, and will not be fooled or abated of any jot of her authority, 
by the pertest of her sons: and as fast as the public mind is opened 
to more intelligence, the code is seen to be brute and stammering. 
It speaks not articulately, and must be made to. Meantime the educa- 
tion of the general mind never stops. The reveries of the true and 
simple are prophetic. What the tender poetic youth dreams, and 
prays, and paints to-day, but shuns the ridicule of saying aloud, shall 
presently be the resolutions of public bodies, then shall be carried as 
grievance and bill of rights through conflict and war, and then shall 
be triumphant law and establishment for a hundred years, until it 
gives place, in turn, to new prayers and pictures. The history of the 
State sketches in coarse outline the progress of thought, and follows 
at a distance the delicacy of culture and of aspiration. 

The theory of politics, which has possessed the mind of men, and 
which they have expressed the best they could in their laws and in 
their revolutions, considers persons and projjerty as the two objects 
for whose protection government exists. Of {persons, all have equal 
rights, in virtue of being identical in nature. This interest, of course, 
with its whole power demands a democracy. Whilst the rights of all 
as persons are equal, in virtue of their access to reason, their rights in 
property are very unequal. One man owns his clothes, and another 
owns a county. This accident, depending, primarily, on the skill and 



POLITICS 241 

virtue of the parties, of which there is every degree, and secondarily, 
on patrimony, falls unequally, and its rights, of course, are unequal. 
Personal rights, universally the same, demand a government framed 
on the ratio of the census: prop)erty demands a government framed 
on the ratio of owners and of owning. Laban, who has flocks and 
herds, wishes them looked after by an officer on the frontiers, lest 
the Midianites shall drive them of?, and pays a tax to that end. Jacob 
has no flocks or herds, and no fear of the Midianites, and pays no tax 
to the officer. It seemed fit that Laban and Jacob should have equal 
rights to elect the officer, who is to defend their persons, but that 
Laban and not Jacob, should elect the officer who is to guard the 
sheep and cattle. And, if question arise whether additional officers or 
watch-towers should be provided, must not Laban and Isaac, and 
those who must sell part of their herds to buy protection for the rest, 
judge better of this, and with more right, than Jacob, who, because 
he is a youth and a traveller, eats their bread and not his own? 

In the earliest society the proprietors made their own wealth, and 
so long as it comes to the owners in the direct way, no other opinion 
would arise in any equitable community, than that property should 
make the law for property, and persons the law for persons. 

But property passes through donation or inheritance to those who 
do not create it. Gift, in one case, makes it as really the new owner's, 
as labor made it the first owner's, in the other case, of patrimony, the 
law makes an ownership, which will be valid in each man's view 
according to the estimate which he sets on the public tranquillity. 

It was not, however, found easy to embody the readily admitted 
principle, that property should make law for projjerty, and persons 
for persons: since persons and property mixed themselves in every 
transaction. At last it seems settled, that the rightful distinction was, 
that the proprietors should have more elective franchise than non- 
proprietors, on the Spartan principle of "calUng that which is just, 
equal; not that which is equal, just." 

That principle no longer looks so self evident as it appeared in 
former times, partly, because doubts have arisen whether too much 
weight had not been allowed in the laws, to property, and such a 
structure given to our usages, as allowed the rich to encroach on the 
poor, and to keep them poor; but mainly, because there is an instinc- 



242 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

live sense, however obscure and yet inarticulate, that the whole con- 
stitution of property, on its present tenures, is injurious, and its 
influence on persons deteriorating and degrading; that truly, the only 
interest for the consideration of the State, is persons; that property 
will always follow persons; that the highest end of government is 
the culture of men: and if men can be educated, the institutions will 
share their improvement, and the moral sentiment will write the 
law of the land. 

If it be not easy to settle the equity of this question, the peril is less 
when we take note of our natural defences. We are kept by better 
guards than the vigilance of such magistrates as we commonly elect. 
Society always consists, in greatest part, of young and foolish persons. 
The old, who have seen through the hypocrisy of courts and states- 
men, die, and leave no wisdom to their sons. They believe their 
own newspaper, as their fathers did at their age. With such an ignor- 
ant and deceivable majority, States would soon run to ruin, but that 
there are limitations beyond which the folly and ambition of 
governors cannot go. Things have their laws, as well as men; and 
things refuse to be trifled with. Property will be protected. Corn 
will not grow, unless it is planted and manured; but the farmer 
will not plant or hoe it, unless the chances are a hundred to one, 
that he will cut and harvest it. Under any forms, persons and 
property must and will have their just sway. They exert their power, 
as steadily as matter its attraction. Cover up a pound of earth never 
so cunningly, divide and subdivide it; melt it to liquid, convert it 
to gas; it will always weigh a pound: it will always attract and resist 
other matter, by the full virtue of one pound weight; — and the attri- 
butes of a person, his wit and his moral energy, will exercise, under 
any law or extinguishing tyranny, their proper force, — if not overtly, 
then covertly; if not for the law, then against it; with right, or by 
might. 

The boundaries of personal influence it is impossible to fix, as 
persons are organs of moral or supernatural force. Under the domin- 
ion of an idea, which possesses the minds of multitudes, as civil 
freedom, or the religious sentiment, the powers of persons are no 
longer subjects of calculation. A nation of men unanimously bent 
on freedom, or conquest, can easily confound the arithmetic of stat- 



POLITICS 243 

ists, and achieve extravagant actions, out of all proportion to their 
means; as, the Greeks, the Saracens, the Swiss, the Americans, and 
the French have done. 

In Uke manner, to every particle of property belongs its own attrac- 
tion. A cent is the representative of a certain quantity of corn or 
other commodity. Its value is in the necessities of the animal man. 
It is so much warmth, so much bread, so much water, so much land. 
The law may do what it will with the owner of property, its just 
power will still attach to the cent. The law may in a mad freak say, 
that all shall have power except the owners of property: they shall 
have no vote. Nevertheless, by a higher law, the property will, year 
after year, write every statute that respects property. The non- 
proprietor will be the scribe of the proprietor. What the owners wish 
to do, the whole power of property will do, either through the law, 
or else in defiance of it. Of course, I speak of all the property, not 
merely of the great estates. When the rich are outvoted, as fre- 
quently happens, it is the joint treasury of the poor which exceeds 
their accumulations. Every man owns something, if it is only a cow, 
or a wheelbarrow, or his arms, and so has that property to dispose of. 

The same necessity which secures the rights of person and prop- 
erty against the malignity or folly of the magistrate, determines the 
form and methods of governing, which are proper to each nation, 
and to its habit of thought, and nowise transferable to other states of 
society. In this country, we are very vain of our political institutions, 
which are singular in this, that they sprung, within the memory of 
living men, from the character and condition of the people, which 
they still express with sufficient fidelity, — and we ostentatiously pre- 
fer them to any other in history. They are not better, but only fitter 
for us. We may be wise in asserting the advantage in modern times 
of the democratic form, but to other states of society, in which 
religion consecrated the monarchical, that and not this was expedient. 
Democracy is better for us, because the religious sentiment of the 
present time accords better with it. Born democrats, we are nowise 
qualified to judge of monarchy, which, to our fathers Uving in the 
monarchical idea, was also relatively right. But our institutions, 
though in coincidence with the spirit of the age, have not any exemp- 
tion from the practical defects which have discredited other forms. 



244 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

Every actual State is corrupt. Good men must not obey the laws too 
well. What satire on government can equal the severity of censure 
conveyed in the word politic, which now for ages has signified 
cunning, intimating that the State is a trick ? 

The same benign necessity and the same practical abuse appear in 
the parties into which each State divides itself of opponents and de- 
fenders of the administration of the government. Parties are also 
founded on instincts, and have better guides to their own humble 
aims than the sagacity of their leaders. They have nothing perverse 
in their origin, but rudely mark some real and lasting relation. We 
might as wisely reprove the east wind, or the frost, as a political 
party, whose members, for the most part, could give no account 
of their f)osition, but stand for the defence of those interests in which 
they find themselves. Our quarrel with them begins, when they quit 
this deep natural ground at the bidding of some leader, and, obeying 
personal considerations, throw themselves into the maintenance and 
defence of points, nowise belonging to their system. A party is per- 
petually corrupted by p)ersonality. Whilst we absolve the association 
from dishonesty, we cannot extend the same character to their lead- 
ers. They reap the rewards of the docility and zeal of the masses 
which they direct. Ordinarily, our parties are parties of circumstance, 
and not of principle; as, the planting interest in conflict with the 
commercial; the party of capitalists, and that of operatives; parties 
which are identical in their moral character, and which can easily 
change ground with each other, in the support of many of their 
measures. Parties of principle, as, religious sects, or the party of free- 
trade, of universal suffrage, of abolition of slavery, of abolition of cap»- 
ital punishment, degenerate into personalities, or would inspire 
enthusiasm. The vice of our leading parties in this country (which 
may be cited as a fair specimen of these societies of opinion) is, that 
they do not plant themselves on the deep and necessary grounds to 
which they are respectively entitled, but lash themselves to fury in 
the carrying of some local and momentary measure, nowise useful to 
the commonwealth. Of the two great parties, which, at this hour, 
almost share the nation between them, I should say, that, one has the 
best cause, and the other contains the best men. The philosopher, 
the poet, or the religious man will, of course, wish to cast his vote 



POLITICS 245 

with the democrat, for free-trade, for wide suffrage, for the abolition 
of legal cruelties in the penal code, and for facilitating in every man- 
ner the access of the young and the poor to the sources of wealth and 
power. But he can rarely accept the persons whom the so-called 
popular party propose to him as representatives of these liberalities. 
They have not at heart the ends which give to the name of democ- 
racy what hope and virtue are in it. The spirit of our American 
radicalism is destructive and aimless: it is not loving, it has no 
ulterior and divine ends; but is destructive only out of hatred and 
selfishness. On the other side, the conservative party, composed of 
the most moderate, able, and cultivated part of the population, is 
timid, and merely defensive of property. It vindicates no right, it 
aspires to no real good, it brands no crime, it proposes no generous 
pohcy, it does not build, nor write, nor cherish the arts, nor foster 
religion, nor establish schools, nor encourage science, nor emancipate 
the slave, nor befriend the poor, or the Indian, or the immigrant. 
From neither party, when in f)ower, has the world any benefit to 
expect in science, art, or humanity, at all commensurate with the 
resources of the nation. 

I do not for these defects despair of our republic. We are not at 
the mercy of any waves of chance. In the strife of ferocious parties, 
human nature always finds itself cherished, as the children of the 
convicts at Botany Bay are found to have as healthy a moral senti- 
ment as other children. Citizens of feudal states are alarmed at our 
democratic institutions lapsing into anarchy; and the older and 
more cautious among ourselves are learning from Europeans to 
look with some terror at our turbulent freedom. It is said that in our 
Ucense of construing the Constitution and in the despotism of public 
opinion, we have no anchor; and one foreign observer thinks he h.-is 
found the safeguard in the sanctity of Marriage among us; and an- 
other thinks he has found it in our Calvinism. Fisher Ames ex- 
pressed the fxjpular security more wisely, when he compared a 
monarchy and a republic, saying, "that a monarchy is a merchant- 
man, which sails well, but will sometimes strike on a rock, and go to 
the bottom; whilst a republic is a raft, which would never sink, but 
then your feet are always in water." No forms can have any danger- 
ous importance, whilst we are befriended by the laws of things. 



246 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

It makes no difference how many tons weight of atmosphere presses 
on our heads, so long as the same pressure resists it within the lungs. 
Augment the mass a thousand fold, it cannot begin to crush us, as 
long as reaction is equal to action. The fact of two poles, of two 
forces, centripetal and centrifugal, is universal, and each force by its 
own activity develops the other. Wild liberty develops iron con- 
science. Want of liberty, by strengthening law and decorum, stupe- 
fies conscience. "Lynch-law" prevails only where there is greater 
hardihood and self-subsistency in the leaders. A mob cannot be a 
jjermanency: everybody's interest requires that it should not exist, 
and only justice satisfies all. 

We must trust infinitely to the beneficent necessity which shines 
through all laws. Human nature expresses itself in them as charac- 
teristically as in statues, or songs, or railroads, and an abstract of the 
codes of nations would be a transcript of the common conscience. 
Governments have their origin in the moral identity of men. Reason 
for one is seen to be reason for another, and for every other. There 
is a middle measure which satisfies all parties, be they never so many, 
or so resolute for their own. Every man finds a sanction for his 
simplest claims and deeds in decisions of his own mind, which he 
calls Truth and Holiness. In these decisions all the citizens find a 
perfect agreement, and only in these; not in what is good to eat, good 
to wear, good use of time, or what amount of land, or of public aid, 
each is entitled to claim. This truth and justice men presendy en- 
deavor to make application of, to the measuring of land, the appor- 
tionment of service, the protection of life and property. Their first 
endeavors, no doubt, are very awkward. Yet absolute right is the 
first governor; or, every government is an impure theocracy. The 
idea, after which each community is aiming to make and mend its 
law, is, the will of the wise man. The wise man, it cannot find in 
nature, and it makes awkward but earnest efforts to secure his 
government by contrivance; as, by causing the entire people to give 
their voices on every measure; or, by a double choice to get the rep- 
resentation of the whole; or, by a selection of the best citizens; or, to 
secure the advantages of efficiency and internal peace, by confiding 
the government to one, who may himself select his agents. All forms 
of government symbolize an immortal government, common to all 



POLITICS 247 

dynasties and independent of numbers, perfect where two men exist, 
perfect where there is only one man. 

Every man's nature is a sufficient advertisement to him of the 
character of his fellows. My right and my wrong, is their right and 
their wrong. Whilst I do what is fit for me, and abstain from what 
is unfit, my neighbor and I shall often agree in our means, and work 
together for a time to one end. But whenever I find my dominion 
over myself not sufficient for me, and undertake the direction of him 
also, I overstep the truth, and come into false relations to him. I may 
have so much more skill or strength than he, that he cannot express 
adequately his sense of wrong, but it is a lie, and hurts like a lie both 
him and me. Love and nature cannot maintain the assumption: it 
must be executed by a practical lie, namely, by force. This undertak- 
ing for another, is the blunder which stands in colossal ugliness in the 
governments of the world. It is the same thing in numbers, as in a 
pair, only not quite so intelligible. I can see well enough a great dif- 
ference between my setting myself down to a self<ontrol, and my 
going to make somebody else act after my views: but when a quarter 
of the human race assume to tell me what I must do, I may be too 
much disturbed by the circumstances to see so clearly the absurdity 
of their command. Therefore, all public ends look vague and quix- 
otic beside private ones. For, any laws but those which men make 
for themselves, are laughable. If I put myself in the place of my 
child, and we stand in one thought, and see that things are thus or 
thus, that perception is law for him and me. We are both there, both 
act. But if, without carrying him into the thought, I look over into 
his plot, and guessing how it is with him, ordain this or that, he will 
never obey me. This is the history of governments, — one man does 
something which is to bind another. A man who cannot be 
acquainted with me, taxes me; looking from afar at me, ordains that 
a part of my labor shall go to this or that whimsical end, not as I, but 
as he happens to fancy. Behold the consequence. Of all debts, men 
are least willing to pay the taxes. What a satire is this on govern- 
ment! Everywhere they think they get their money's worth, except 
for these. 

Hence, the less government we have, the better, — the fewer laws, 
and the less confided power. The antidote to this abuse of formal 



248 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

Government, is, the influence of private character, the growth of the 
Individual; the reappearance of the principal to sujjersede the proxy; 
the appearance of the wise man, of whom the existing government, 
is, it must be owned, but a shabby imitation. That which all things 
tend to educe, which freedom, cultivation, intercourse, revolutions, 
go to form and deliver, is character; that is the end of nature, to reach 
unto this coronation, of her king. To educate the wise man, the State 
exists; and with the appearance of the wise man, the State expires. 
The appearance of character makes the State unnecessary. The wise 
man is the State. He needs no army, fort, or navy, — he loves men too 
well; no bribe, or feast, or palace, to draw friends to him; no vantage 
ground, no favorable circumstance. He needs no library, for he has 
not done thinking; no church, for he is a prophet; no statute book, 
for he is the law-giver; no money, for he is value; no road, for he is 
at home where he is; no experience, for the life of the creator shoots 
through him and looks from his eyes. He has no personal friends, for 
he who has the sf)ell to draw the prayer and piety of all men unto 
him, needs not husband and educate a few, to share with him a select 
and poetic life. His relation to men is angelic; his memory is myrrh 
to them; his presence, frankincense and flowers. 

We think our civilization near its meridian, but we are yet only 
at the cock<rowing and the morning star. In our barbarous society 
the influence of character is in its infancy. As a poUtical power, as 
the rightful lord who is to tumble all rulers from their chairs, its 
presence is hardly yet suspected. Malthus and Ricardo quite omit it; 
the Annual Register is silent; in the Conversations' Lexicon, it is not 
set down; the President's Message, the Queen's Speech, have not 
mentioned it; and yet it is never nothing. Every thought which 
genius and piety throw into the world, alters the world. The gladia- 
tors in the lists of power feel, through all their frocks of force and 
simulation, the presence of worth. I think the very strife of trade 
and ambition are confession of this divinity; and successes in those 
fields are the poor amends, the fig-leaf with which the shamed soul 
attempts to hide its nakedness. I find the like unwilling homage in 
all quarters. It is because we know how much is due from us that 
we are impatient to show some petty talent as a substitute for worth. 



POLITICS 249 

We are haunted by a conscience of this right to grandeur of char- 
acter, and are false to it. But each of us has some talent, can do 
somewhat useful, or graceful, or formidable, or amusing, or lucrative. 
That we do, as an apology to others and to ourselves, for not reaching 
the mark of a good and equal life. But it does not satisfy us, whilst 
we thrust it on the notice of our companions. It may throw dust 
in their eyes, but does not smooth our own brow, or give us the 
tranquillity of the strong when we walk abroad. We do penance as 
we go. Our talent is a sort of expiation, and we are constrained to 
reflect on our splendid moment, with a certain humiliation, as some- 
what too fine, and not as one act of many acts, a fair expression of 
our permanent energy. Most persons of ability meet in society with 
a kind of tacit appeal. Each seems to say, "I am not all here." Sen- 
ators and presidents have climbed so high with pain enough, not 
because they think the place specially agreeable, but as an apology for 
real worth, and to vindicate their manhood in our eyes. This con- 
spicuous chair is their compensation to themselves for being of a 
poor, cold, hard nature. They must do what they can. Like one class 
of forest animals, they have nothing but a prehensile tail: climb they 
must or crawl. If a man found himself so rich-natured that he could 
enter into strict relations with the best persons, and make Hfe serene 
around him by the dignity and sweetness of his behavior, could he 
afford to circumvent the favor of the caucus and the press, and covert 
relations so hollow and pompous, as those of a fxilitician? Surely 
nobody would be a charlatan, who could afford to be sincere. 

The tendencies of the times favor the idea of self-government, and 
leave the individual, for all code, to the rewards and penalties of his 
own constitution, which work with more energy than we believe, 
whilst we depend on artificial restraints. The movement in this 
direction has been very marked in modern history. Much has been 
blind and discreditable, but the nature of the revolution is not 
affected by the vices of the revolters; for this is a purely moral force. 
It was never adopted by any party in history, neither can be. It sep- 
arates the individual from all party, and unites him, at the same time, 
to the race. It promises a recognition of higher rights than those of 
personal freedom, or the security of property. A man has a right to 



250 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

be employed, to be trusted, to be loved, to be revered. The power of 
love, as the basis of a State, has never been tried. We must not im- 
agine that all things are lapsing into confusion, if every tender 
protestant be not compelled to bear his part in certain social conven- 
tions: nor doubt that roads can be built, letters carried, and the fruit 
of labor secured, when the government of force is at an end. Are 
our methods now so excellent that all competition is hopeless ? Could 
not a nation of friends even devise better ways ? On the other hand, 
let not the most conservative and timid fear anything from a prema- 
ture surrender of the bayonet, and the system of force. For, accord- 
ing to the order of nature, which is quite superior to our will, it 
stands thus; there will always be a government of force, where men 
are selfish; and when they are pure enough to abjure the code of 
force, they will be wise enough to see how these public ends of the 
post-office, of the highway, of commerce, and the exchange of prop- 
erty, of museums and libraries, of institutions of art and science, can 
be answered. 

We Uve in a very low state of the world, and pay unwilling tribute 
to governments founded on force. There is not, among the most 
reUgious and instructed men of the most religious and civil nations, 
a reliance on the moral sentiment, and a sufficient belief in the unity 
of things to persuade them that society can be maintained without 
artificial restraints, as well as the solar system; or that the private 
citizen might be reasonable, and a good neighbor, without the hint 
of a jail or a confiscation. What is strange too, there never was in any 
man sufficient faith in the power of rectitude, to inspire him with the 
broad design of renovating the State on the principle of right and 
love. All those who have pretended this design, have been partial 
reformers, and have admitted in some manner the supremacy of the 
bad State. I do not call to mind a single human being who has 
steadily denied the authority of the laws, on the simple ground of his 
own moral nature. Such designs, full of genius and full of fate as 
they are, are not entertained except avowedly as air-pictures. If the 
individual who exhibits them, dare to think them practicable, he 
disgusts scholars and churchmen; and men of talent, and women of 
superior sentiments, cannot hide their contempt. Not the less does 



POLITICS 251 

nature continue to fill the heart of youth with suggestions of this 
enthusiasm, and there are now men, — if indeed I can speak in the 
plural number, — more exactly, I will say, I have just been conversing 
with one man, to whom no weight of adverse experience will make 
it for a moment appear impossible, that thousands of human beings 
might exercise towards each other the grandest and simplest senti- 
ments, as well as a knot of friends, or a pair of lovers. 



NEW ENGLAND REFORMERS 

A Lecture Read Before the Society in Amory Hall on 
Sunday, March 3, 1844. 

WHOEVER has had opportunity o£ acquaintance with soci- 
ety in New England during the last twenty-five years, with 
those middle and with those leading sections that may 
constitute any Just representation of the character and aim of the 
community, will have been struck with the great activity of thought 
and experimenting. His attention must be commanded by the signs 
that the Church or reHgious party is falHng from the church nominal, 
and is appearing in temperance and non-resistance societies, in 
movements of abolitionists and of socialists, and in very significant 
assemblies, called Sabbath and Bible Conventions — composed of ul- 
traists, of seekers, of all the soul of the soldiery of dissent, and meet- 
ing to call in question the authority of the Sabbath, of the priesthood, 
and of the church. In these movements nothing was more remark- 
able than the discontent they begot in the movers. The spirit of 
protest and of detachment drove the members of these Conventions 
to bear testimony against the church, and immediately afterward to 
declare their discontent with these Conventions, their independence 
of their colleagues, and their impatience of the methods whereby 
they were working. They defied each other, like a congress of 
kings, each of whom had a realm to rule, and a way of his own that 
made concert unprofitable. What a fertility of projects for the sal- 
vation of the world! One apostle thought all men should go to 
farming; and another, that no man should buy or sell: that the 
use of money was the cardinal evil; another, that the mischief was 
in our diet, that we eat and drink damnation. These made unleav- 
ened bread, and were foes to the death to fermentation. It was in 
vain urged by the housewife, that God made yeast as well as dough, 
and loves fermentation just as dearly as he loves vegetation; that 

153 



254 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

fermentation develops the saccharine element in the grain and makes 
it more palatable and more digestible. No; they wish the pure wheat, 
and will die but it shall not ferment. Stop, dear nature, these in- 
cessant advances of thine; let us scotch these ever-rolling wheels! 
Others attacked the system of agriculture, the use of animal manures 
in farming, and the tyranny of man over brute nature; these abuses 
{xdluted his food. The ox must be taken from the plow and the 
horse from the cart, the hundred acres of the farm must be spaded, 
and the man must walk wherever boats and locomotives will not 
carry him. Even the insect world was to be defended — that had been 
too long neglected, and a society for the protection of ground-worms, 
slugs, and mosquitoes was to be incorpxirated without delay. With 
these appeared the adepts of homoeopathy, of hydropathy, of mes- 
merism, of phrenology and their wonderful theories of the Christian 
miracles! Others assailed particular vocations, as that of the lawyer, 
that of the merchant, of the manufacturer, of the clergyman, of the 
scholar. Others attacked the institution of marriage, as the fountain 
of social evils. Others devoted themselves to the worrying of 
churches and meetings for public worship; and the fertile forms of 
antinomianism among the elder puritans seemed to have their match 
in the plenty of the new harvest of reform. 

With this din of opinion and debate, there was a keener scrutiny 
of institutions and domestic life than any we had known, there was 
sincere protesting against existing evils, there were changes of em- 
ployment dictated by conscience. No doubt, there was plentiful 
vaporing, and cases of back-sliding might occur. But in each of 
these movements emerged a good result, a tendency to the adoption 
of simpler methods, and an assertion of the sufficiency of the private 
man. Thus it was directly in the spirit and genius of the age, what 
happened in one instance, when a church censured and threatened 
to excommunicate one of its members on account of the somewhat 
hostile part to the church which his conscience led him to take in 
the anti-slavery business; the threatened individual immediately ex- 
communicated the church in a public and formal process. This has 
been several times repeated: it was excellent when it was done the 
first time, but, of course, loses all value when it is copied. Every 
project in the history of reform, no matter how violent and surpris- 



NEW ENGLAND REFORMERS 255 

ing, is good when it is the dictate of man's genius and constitution, 
but very dull and suspicious when adopted from another. It is right 
and beautiful in any man to say: "I will take this coat, or this book, 
or this measure of corn of yours" — in whom we see the act to be 
original, and to flow from the whole spirit and faith of him; for 
then that taking will have a giving as free and divine; but we are 
very easily disposed to resist the same generosity of speech, when we 
miss originaUty and truth to character in it. 

There was in all the practical activities of New England, for the 
last quarter of a century, a gradual withdrawal of tender consciences 
from the social organization. There is observable throughout, the 
contest between mechanical and spiritual methods, but with a steady 
tendency of the thoughtful and virtuous to a deeper beUef and reli- 
ance on spiritual facts. 

In politics, for example, it is easy to see the progress of dissent. 
The country is full of rebellion; the country is full of kings. Hands 
off! let there be no control and no interference in the administration 
of the affairs of this kingdom of me. Hence the growth of the doc- 
trine and of the party of Free Trade, and the willingness to try that 
experiment, in the face of what appear incontestable facts. I confess 
the motto of the Globe newspaper is so attractive to me that I can 
seldom find much appetite to read what is below it in its columns, 
"The world is governed too much." So the country is frequently 
affording solitary examples of resistance to the government, solitary 
nuUifiers, who throw themselves on their reserved rights: nay, who 
have reserved all their rights; who reply to the assessor, and to the 
clerk of court, that they do not know the State; and embarrass the 
courts of law, by non-juring, and the commander-in<hidE of the 
militia, by non-resistance. 

The same disposition to scrutiny and dissent appeared in civil, 
festive, neighborly, and domestic society. A restless, prying, consci- 
entious criticism broke out in unexpected quarters. Who gave me 
the money with which I bought my coat ? Why should professional 
labor and that of the counting-house be paid so disproportionately 
to the labor of the pwrter and wood-sawyer ? This whole business of 
Trade causes me to pause and think, as it constitutes false relations 
between men; inasmuch as I am prone to count myself relieved of 



256 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

any responsibility to behave well and nobly to that person whom I 
pay with money, whereas if I had not that commodity, I should be 
put on my good behavior in all companies, and man would be a 
benefactor to man, as being himself his only certificate that he had 
a right to those aids and services which each ask of the other. Am I 
not too protected a person? Is there not a wide disparity between 
the lot of me and the lot of thee, my poor brother, my poor sister? 
Am I not defrauded of my best culture in the loss of those gym- 
nastics which manual labor and the emergencies of poverty consti- 
tute? I find nothing healthful or exalting in the smooth conventions 
of society; I do not Hke the close air of saloons. I begin to suspect 
myself to be a prisoner, though treated with all this courtesy and 
luxury. I pay a destructive tax in my conformity. 

The same insatiable criticism may be traced in the efforts for the 
reform of Education. The popular education has been taxed with a 
want of truth and nature. It was complained that an education to 
things was not given. We are students of words: we are shut up in 
schools, and colleges, and recitation-rooms, for ten or fifteen years, 
and come out at last with a bag of wind, a memory of words, and 
do not know a thing. We cannot use our hands, or our legs, or our 
eyes, or our arms. We do not know an edible root in the woods, we 
cannot tell our course by the stars, nor the hour of day by the sun. 
It is well if we can swim and skate. We are afraid of a horse, of a 
cow, of a dog, of a snake, of a spider. The Roman rule was, to 
teach a boy nothing that he could not learn standing. The old 
English rule was, "All summer in the fields, and all winter in the 
study." And it seems as if a man should learn to plant, or to fish 
or to hunt, that he might secure his subsistence at all events, and not 
be painful to his friends and fellow men. The lessons of science 
should be experimental also. The sight of the planet through a 
telescope is worth all the course on astronomy: the shock of the 
electric spark in the elbow outvalues all the theories; the taste of 
the nitrous oxide, the firing of an artificial volcano, are better than 
volumes of chemistry. 

One of the traits of the new spirit is the inquisition it fixed on our 
scholastic devotion to the dead languages. The ancient languages, 



NEW ENGLAND REFORMERS 257 

with great beauty of structure, contain wonderful remains of genius, 
which draw, and always will draw, certain liketninded men — Greek 
men, and Roman men — in all countries, to their study; but by a 
wonderful drowsiness of usage, they had exacted the study of all 
men. Once (say two centuries ago), Latin and Greek had a strict 
relation to all the science and culture there was in Europe, and the 
Mathematics had a momentary imjxjrtance at some era of activity 
in physical science. These things became stereotyped as education, 
as the manner of men is. But the Good Spirit never cared for the 
colleges, and though all men and boys were now drilled in Latin, 
Greek, and Mathematics, it had quite left these shells high and dry 
on the beach, and was now creating and feeding other matters at 
other ends of the world. But in a hundred high schools and colleges 
this warfare against common sense still goes on. Four, or six, or 
ten years, the pupil is parsing Greek and Latin, and as soon as he 
leaves the University, as it is ludicrously called, he shuts those books 
for the last time. Some thousands of young men are graduated at 
our colleges in this country every year, and the p)ersons who at forty 
years still read Greek can all be counted on your hand. I never met 
with ten. Four or five persons I have seen who read Plato. 

But is not this absurd, that the whole liberal talent of this country 
should be directed in its best years on studies which lead to noth- 
ing? What was the consequence? Some intelligent person said or 
thought: "Is that Greek and Latin some spell to conjure with, and 
not words of reason ? If the physician, the lawyer, the divine, never 
use it to come at their ends, I need never learn it to come at mine. 
Conjuring is gone out of fashion, and I will omit this conjugating 
and go straight to affairs." So they jumped the Greek and Latin, 
and read law, medicine or sermons without it. To the astonishment 
of all, the self-made men took even ground at once with the oldest 
of the regfular graduates, and in a few months the most conservative 
circles of Boston and New York had quite forgotten who of their 
gownsmen was college-bred and who was not. 

One tendency appears alike in the philosophical sp>eculation and in 
the rudest democratical movements, through all the petulance and 
all the puerility, the wish, namely, to cast aside the superfluous and 



258 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

arrive at short methods, urged, as I suppose, by an intuition that the 
human spirit is equal to all energies, alone, and that man is more 
often injured than helped by the means he uses. 

I conceive this gradual casting off of material aids, and the indi- 
cation of growing trust in the private, self-supplied powers of the 
individual, to be the affirmative principle of the recent philosophy; 
and that it is feeling its own profound truth and is reaching forward 
at this very hour to the happiest conclusions. I readily concede that 
in this, as in every period of intellectual activity, there has been a 
noise of denial and protest; much was to be resisted, much was to 
be got rid of by those who were reared in the old, before they could 
begin to affirm and to construct. Many a reformer perishes in his 
removal of rubbish — and that makes the offensiveness of the class. 
They are partial; they are not equal to the work they pretend. They 
lose their way; in the assault on the kingdom of darkness, they ex- 
pend all their energy on some accidental evil, and lose their sanity 
and power of benefit. It is of little moment that one or two or 
twenty errors of our social system be corrected, but of much that 
the man be in his senses. 

The criticism and attack on institutions which we have witnessed 
has made one thing plain, that society gains nothing while a man, 
not himself renovated, attempts to renovate things around him; he 
has become tediously good in some particular, but negligent or 
narrow in the rest; and hypocrisy and vanity are often the disgusting 
result. 

It is handsomer to remain in the establishment better than the 
establishment, and conduct that in the best manner, than to make 
a sally against evil by some single improvement, without supporting 
it by a total regeneration. Do not be so vain of your one objection. 
Do you think there is only one? Alas! my good friend, there is no 
part of society or of life better than any other part. All our things 
are right and wrong together. The wave of evil washes all our insti- 
tutions alike. Do you complain of our Marriage? Our marriage is 
no worse than our education, our diet, our trade, our social customs. 
Do you complain of the laws of Property? It is a pedantry to give 
such importance to them. Can we not play the game of life with 
these counters as well as with those, in the institution of property 



NEW ENGLAND REFORMERS 259 

as well as out of it ? Let into it the new and renewing principle of 
love, and property will be universality. No one gives the impression 
of superiority to the institution, which he must give who will reform 
it. It makes no difference what you say, you must make me feel 
that you are aloof from it, by your natural and supernatural advan- 
tages, do easily see to the end of it — do see how man can do with- 
out it. Now all men are on one side. No man deserves to be heard 
against property. Only Love, only an Idea, is against property, as 
we hold it. 

I cannot afford to be irritable and captious, nor waste all my time 
in attacks. If I should go out of church whenever I hear a false 
statement, I could never stay there five minutes. But why come out.? 
The street is as false as the church, and when I get to my house, 
or to my manners, or to my speech, I have not got away from the 
lie. When we see an eager assailant of one of these wrongs, a special 
reformer, we feel like asking him. What right have you, sir, to your 
one virtue? Is virtue piecemeal .■' This is a jewel amid the rags of 
a beggar. 

In another way the right will be vindicated. In the midst of 
abuses, in the heart of cities, in the aisles of false churches, alike in 
one place and in another — wherever, namely, a just and heroic soul 
finds itself, there it will do what is next at hand, and by the new 
quality of character it shall put forth, it shall abrogate that old 
condition, law or school in which it stands, before the law of its 
own mind. 

If partiality was one fault of the movement party, the other defect 
was their reliance on Association. Doubts such as those I have inti- 
mated drove many good persons to agitate the questions of social 
reform. But the revolt against the spirit of commerce, the spirit of 
aristocracy, and the inveterate abuses of cities, did not appear possible 
to individuals; and to do battle against numbers, they armed them- 
selves with numbers, and against concert, they relied on new concert. 

Following or advancing beyond the ideas of St. Simon, of Fourier, 
and of Owen, three communities have already been formed in Massa- 
chusetts on kindred plans, and many more in the country at large. 
They aim to give every member a share in the manual labor, and 
to give an equal reward to labor and to talent; and to unite a Uberal 



26o RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

culture with an education to labor. The scheme offers, by the 
economies of associated labor and expanse, to make every member 
rich, on the same amount of property that in separate families would 
leave every member poor. These new associations are compKJsed of 
men and women of superior talents and sentiments; yet it may easily 
be questioned whether such a community will draw, except in its 
beginnings, the able and the good; whether those who have energy 
will not prefer their chance of superiority and power in the world 
to the humble certainties of the Association; whether such a retreat 
does not promise to become an asylum to those who have tried and 
failed, rather than a field to the strong; and whether the members 
will not necessarily be fractions of men, because each finds that he 
cannot enter it without some compromise. Friendship and associa- 
tion are very fine things, and a grand phalanx of the best of the 
human race, banded for some catholic object. Yes, excellent, but 
remember that no society can ever be so large as one man. He, in 
his friendship, in his natural and momentary associations, doubles 
or multiplies himself, but in the hour in which he mortgages him- 
self to two or ten or twenty, he dwarfs himself below the stature 
of one. 

But the men of less faith could not thus believe, and to such, 
concert appears the sole specific of strength. I have failed, and you 
have failed, but perhaps together we shall not fail. Our housekeep- 
ing is not satisfactory to us, but perhaps a phalanx, a community, 
might be. Many of us have differed in opinion, and we could find 
no man who could make the truth plain, but possibly a college or 
an ecclesiastical council might. I have not been able either to per- 
suade my brother, or to prevail on myself, to disuse the traffic or the 
potation of brandy, but jjerhaps a pledge of total abstinence might 
cflcctually restrain us. The candidate my party votes for is not to be 
trusted with a dollar, but he will be honest in the Senate, for we can 
bring public opinion to bear on him. Thus concert was the specific 
in all cases. But concert is neither better nor worse, neither more 
nor less potent than individual force. All the men in the world 
cannot make a statue walk and speak, cannot make a drop of blood, 
or a blade of grass, any more than one man can. But let there be 
one man, let there be truth in two men, in ten men, then is concert 



NEW ENGLAND REFORMERS 26 1 

for the first time possible, because the force which moves the world 
is a new quality, and can never be furnished by adding whatever 
quantities of a different kind. What is the use of the concert of 
the false and the disunited ? There can be no concert in two where 
there is no concert in one. When the individual is not individual, 
but is dual; when his thoughts look one way and his actions another; 
when his faith is traversed by his habits, when his will, enlightened 
by reason, is warped by his sense; when with one hand he rows, 
and with the other backs water, what concert can be? 

I do not wonder at the interest these projects inspire. The world 
is awaking to the idea of union, and these experiments show what 
it is thinking of. It is and will be magic. Men will live and com- 
municate, and plow, and reap, and govern, as by added ethereal 
power, when once they are united, as in a celebrated experiment; 
by expiration and respiration exactly together, four f)ersons lift a 
heavy man from the ground by the little finger only, and without 
sense of weight. But this union must be inward and not one of the 
covenants, and is to be reached by a reverse of the methods they use. 
The union is only perfect when all the uniters are isolated. It is the 
union of friends who live in different streets or towns. Elach man, 
if he attempts to join himself to others, is on all sides cramped and 
diminished of his proportion, and the stricter the union the smaller 
and the more pitiful he is. But leave him alone to recognize in every 
hour and place the secret soul, he will go up and down doing the 
works of a true member, and, to the astonishment of all the work 
will be done with concert, though no man spoke. Government will 
be adamantine without any governor. The union must be ideal in 
actual individualism. 

I pass to the indication in some particulars of that faith in man, 
which the heart is preaching in these days, and which engages more 
regard from the consideration that the speculations of one generation 
are the history of the next following. 

In alluding just now to our system of education, I sf)oke of the 
deadness of its details. But it is open to graver criticism than the 
palsy of its members, it is a system of despair. The disease with 
which the human mind now labors is want of faith. Men do not 
believe in a power of education. We do not think we can speak to 



262 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

divine sentiments in man, and we do not try. We renounce all high 
aims. We believe that the defects of so many perverse and so many 
frivolous people, who make up society, are organic, and society is a 
hospital of incurables. A man of good sense but of litde faith, whose 
compassion seemed to lead him to church as often as he went there, 
said to me "that he liked to have concerts, and fairs, and churches 
and other public amusements go on." I am afraid the remark is too 
honest, and comes from the same origin as the maxim of the tyrant, 
"If you would rule the world quietly, you must keep it amused." I 
notice, too, that the ground on which eminent public servants urge 
the claims of popular education is fear: "This country is filling up 
with thousands and millions of voters, and you must educate them 
to keep them from our throats." We do not believe that any educa- 
tion, any system of philosophy, any influence of genius, will ever 
give depth of insight to a superficial mind. Having settled ourselves 
into this infidelity, our skill is expended to procure alleviations, 
diversion, opiates. We adorn the victim with manual skill, his 
tongue with languages, his body with inoffensive and comely man- 
ners. So have we cunningly hid the tragedy of limitation and inner 
death we cannot avert. Is it strange that society should be devoured 
by a secret melancholy, which breaks through all its smiles and all 
its gayety and games? 

But even one step further our infidelity has gone. It appears that 
some doubt is felt by good and wise men whether really the happi- 
ness and probity of men is increased by the culture of the mind in 
those disciplines to which we give the name of education. Un- 
happily, too, the doubt comes from scholars, from persons who 
have tried these methods. In their experience, the scholar was not 
raised by the sacred thoughts among which he dwelt, but used them 
to selfish ends. He was a profane f)erson and became a showman, 
turning his gifts to a marketable use and not to his own sustenance 
and growth. It was found that the intellect could be independently 
developed, that is, in separation from the man, as any single organ 
can be invigorated, and the result was monstrous. A canine appetite 
for knowledge was generated, which must still be fed, but was never 
satisfied, and this knowledge not being directed on action, never took 
the character of substantial, humane truth, blessing those whom it 



NEW ENGLAND REFORMERS 263 

entered. It gave the scholar certain powers of expression, the power 
of speech, the power of poetry, of literary art, but it did not bring 
him to peace, or to beneficence. 

When the literary class betray a destitution of faith, it is not strange 
that society should be disheartened and sensualized by unbelief. 
What remedy? Life must be lived on a higher plane. We must go 
up to a higher platform, to which we are always invited to ascend, 
there the whole aspect of things changes. I resist the skepticism of 
our education, and of our educated men. I do not believe that the 
differences of opinion and character in men are organic. I do not 
recognize, beside the class of the good and the wise, a permanent 
class of skeptics, or a class of conservatives, or of malignants, or of 
materialists. I do not believe in two classes. You remember the 
story of the poor woman who importuned King Philip of Macedon 
to grant her justice, which Philip refused; the woman exclaimed, "I 
appeal;" the king, astonished, asked to whom she appealed: the 
woman replied, "from Philip drunk to Philip sober." The text will 
suit me very well. I believe not in two classes of men, but in man in 
two moods — in Philip drunk and Philip sober. I think, according to 
the good-hearted word of Plato, "Unwillingly the soul is deprived 
of truth." Iron conservative, miser, or thief, no man is, but by a 
supposed necessity, which he tolerates by shortness or torpidity of 
sight. The soul lets no man go without some visitations and holy- 
days of a diviner presence. It would be easy to show, by a narrow 
scanning of a man's biography, that we are not so wedded to our 
paltry {performances of every kind, but that every man has at 
intervals the grace to scorn his performances in comparing them 
with his belief of what he should do, that he puts himself on the 
side of his enemies, listening gladly to what they say of him, and 
accusing himself of the same things. 

What is it men love in Genius, but its infinite hope, which de- 
grades all it has done? Genius counts all its miracles poor and 
short. Its own idea it never executed. The Iliad, the Hamlet, the 
Doric column, the Roman arch, the Gothic minster, the German 
anthem, when they are ended, the master casts behind him. How 
sinks the song in the waves of melody which the universe pours 
over his soul! Before that gracious Infinite, out of which he drew 



264 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

these few strokes, how mean they look, though the praises of the 
world attend them. From the triumphs of his art, he turns with 
desire to this greater defeat. Let those admire who will. With silent 
joy he sees himself to be capable of a beauty that eclipses all which 
his hands have done, all which human hands have ever done. 

Well, we are all children of genius, the children of virtue, and 
feel their inspirations in our happier hours. Is not every man some- 
times a radical in politics? Men are conservatives when they are 
least vigorous, or when they are most luxurious. They are conserva- 
tives after dinner, or before taking their rest; when they are sick or 
aged; in the morning, or when their intellect or their conscience 
have been aroused; when they hear music or when they read poetry 
they are radicals. In the circle of the rankest tories that could be 
collected in England, Old or New, let a powerful and stimulating 
intellect, a man of great heart and mind act on them, and very 
quickly these frozen conservators will yield to the friendly influence, 
these hopeless will begin to hope, these haters will begin to love, 
these immovable statues will begin to spin and revolve. I cannot 
help recalling the fine anecdote which Warton relates of Bishop 
Berkeley, when he was preparing to leave England with his plan 
of planting the gospel among the American savages. "Lord Bathurst 
told me that the members of the Scriblerus Club being met at his 
house at dinner, they agreed to rally Berkeley, who was also his 
guest, on his scheme at Bermudas. Berkeley, having listened to the 
many lively things they had to say, begged to be heard in his turn, 
and displayed his plan with such an astonishing and animating 
force of eloquence and enthusiasm that they were struck dumb, 
and after some pause, rose up all together with earnestness, exclaim- 
ing: 'Let us set out with him immediately.' " Men in all ways are 
better than they seem. They like flattery for the moment, but they 
know the truth for their own. It is a foolish cowardice which keeps 
us from trusting them, and speaking to them rude truth. They re- 
sent your honesty for an instant, they will thank you for it always. 
What is it we heartily wish of each other? Is it to be pleased and 
flattered? No, but to be convicted and exposed, to be shamed out 
of our nonsense of all kinds, and made men of, instead of ghosts 
and phantoms. We are weary of gliding ghost-Uke through the 



NEW ENGLAND REFORMERS 265 

world, which is itself so slight and unreal. We crave a sense of 
reality, though it come in strokes of pain. I explain so — by this 
manlike love of truth — those excesses and errors into which souls 
of great vigor, but not equal insight, often fall. They feel the 
poverty at the bottom of all the seeming affluence of the world. 
They know the speed with which they come straight through the 
thin masquerade, and conceive a disgust at the indigence of nature: 
Rousseau, Mirabeau, Charles Fox, Napoleon, Byron — and I could 
easily add names nearer home, of raging riders, who drive their 
steeds so hard in the violence of Uving to forget its illusion: they 
would know the worst, and tread the floors of hell. The heroes of 
ancient and modern fame, Cimon, Themistocles, Alcibiades, Alex- 
ander, Carsar, have treated life and fortune as a game to be well and 
skilfully played, but the stake not to be so valued, but that any time, 
it could be held as a trifle light as air, and thrown up. Caesar, just 
before the battle of Pharsalia, discourses with the Egyptian priest 
concerning the fountains of the Nile, and offers to quit the army, 
the empire, and Cleopatra, if he will show him those mysterious 
sources. 

The same magnanimity shows itself in our social relations, in the 
preference, namely, which each man gives to the society of superiors 
over that of his equals. All that a man has will he give for right 
relations with his mates. All that he has will he give for an erect 
demeanor in every company and on each occasion. He aims at such 
things as his neighbors prize, and gives his days and nights, his 
talents and his heart, to strike a good stroke, to acquit himself in all 
men's sight as a man. The consideration of an eminent citizen, of 
a noted merchant, of a man of mark in his profession; naval and 
military honor, a general's commission, a marshal's baton, a ducal 
coronet, the laurel of poets, and, anyhow procured, the acknowledg- 
ment of eminent merit, have this lustre for each candidate, that they 
enable him to walk erect and unshamed, in the presence of some per- 
sons, before whom he felt himself inferior. Having raised himself 
to this rank, having established his equality with class after class, 
of those with whom he would live well, he still finds certain others, 
before whom he cannot possess himself, because they have somewhat 
fairer, somewhat grander, somewhat purer, which extorts homage 



266 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

of him. Is his ambition pure? then will his laurels and his possessions 
seem worthless; instead of avoiding these men who make his fine 
gold dim, he will cast all behind him, and seek their society only, 
woo and embrace this his humiliation and mortification, until he 
shall know why his eye sinks, his voice is husky, and his brilliant 
talents are paralyzed in this presence. He is sure that the soul which 
gives the lie to all things will tell none. His constitution will not 
mislead him. If it cannot carry itself as it ought, high and unmatch- 
able in the presence of any man, if the secret oracles whose whisper 
makes the sweetness and dignity of his life, do here withdraw and 
accompany him no longer, it is time to undervalue what he has 
valued, to dispossess himself of what he has acquired, and with 
Ca;sar to take in his hand the army, the empire, and Cleopatra, and 
say: "All these will I relinquish, if you will show me the fountains 
of the Nile." Dear to us are those who love us — the swift moments 
we spend with them are the compensation for a great deal of misery; 
they enlarge our life; but dearer are those who reject us as unworthy, 
for they add another life; they build a heaven before us, whereof we 
had not dreamed, and thereby supply to us new powers out of the 
recesses of the spirit, and urge us to new and unattempted perform- 
ances. 

As every man at heart wishes the best and not inferior society, 
wishes to be convicted of his error, and to come to himself, so he 
wishes that the same healing should not stop in his thought, but 
should f)enetrate his will or active power. The selfish man suffers 
more from his selfishness than he from whom that selfishness with- 
holds some important benefit. What he most wishes is to be lifted 
to some higher platform, that he may see beyond his present fear 
the transalpine good, so that his fear, his coldness, his custom may 
be broken up like fragments of ice, melted and carried away in 
the great stream of good will. Do you ask my aid? I also wish to 
be a benefactor. I wish more to be a benefactor and servant than you 
wish to be served by me, and surely the greatest good fortune that 
could befall me is precisely to be so moved by you that I should say, 
"Take me and all mine, and use me and mine freely to your ends!" 
for I could not say it, otherwise than because a great enlargement had 
come to my heart and mind, which made me superior to my fortunes. 



NEW ENGLAhfD REFORMERS 267 

Here we are paralyzed with fear; we hold on to our litde properties, 
house and land, office and money, for the bread which they have in 
our experience yielded us, although we confess that our being does 
not flow through them. We desire to be made great, we desire to 
be touched with that fire which shall command this ice to stream, 
and make our existence a benefit. If, therefore, we start objections 
to your project, O friend of the slave, or friend of the poor, or of 
the race, understand well, that it is because we wish to drive you to 
drive us into your measures. We wish to hear ourselves confuted. 
We are haunted with a belief that you have a secret, which it would 
highliest advantage us to learn; we would force you to impart it to 
us, though it should bring us to prison, or to worse extremity. 

Nothing shall warp me from the belief that every man is a lover 
of truth. There is no pure lie, no pure malignity in nature. The 
entertainment of the proposition of depravity is the last profligacy 
and profanation. There is no skepticism, no atheism but that. Could 
it be received into common belief, suicide would unpeople the planet. 
It has had a name to live in some dogmatic theology, but each man's 
innocence and his real liking of his neighbor, have kept it a dead 
letter. I remember standing at the polls one day, and when the 
anger of the political contest gave a certain grimness to the faces 
of the independent electors, and a good man at my side looking on 
the people, remarked, "I am satisfied that the largest part of these 
men on either side mean to vote right." I suppose considerate ob- 
servers, looking at the masses of men in their blameless, and in their 
equivocal actions, will assent that in spite of selfishness and frivolity 
the general purpose in the great number of persons is fideUty. The 
reason why any one refuses his assent to your opinion, or his aid 
to your benevolent design, is in you; he refuses to accept you as a 
bringer of truth, because, though you think you have it, he feels 
that you have it not. You have not given him the authentic sign. 

If it were worth while to run into details this general doctrine of 
the latent but ever soliciting Spirit, it would be easy to adduce 
illustration in particulars of a man's equality to the church, of his 
equality to the state, and of his equality to every other man. It is 
yet in all men's memory, that a few years ago the liberal churches 
complained that the Calvinistic church denied to them the name 



268 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

of Christian. I think the complaint was confession: a religious 
church would not complain. A religious man like Behmen, Fox, or 
Swedenborg, is not irritated by wanting the sanction of the church, 
but the church feels the accusation of his presence and belief. 

It only needs that a just man should walk in our streets, to make 
it appear how pitiful and inartificial a contrivance is our legislation. 
The man whose part is taken, and who does not wait for society 
in anything, has a power which society cannot choose but feel. The 
familiar experiment, called the hydrostatic paradox, in which a 
capillary column of water balances the ocean, is the symbol of the 
relation of one man to the whole family of men. The wise Dandini, 
on hearing the lives of Socrates, Pythagoras and Diogenes read, 
"judged them to be great men every way, excepting that they 
were too much subjected to the reverence of the laws, which to 
second and authorize, true virtue must abate very much of its origi- 
nal vigor." 

And as a man is equal to the church, and equal to the state, so he 
is equal to every other man. The disparities of power in men are 
superficial; and all frank and searching conversation, in which a 
man lays himself open to his brother, apprizes each of their radical 
unity. When two persons sit and converse in thoroughly good un- 
derstanding, the remark is sure to be made. See how we have dis- 
puted about words! Let a clear, apprehensive mind, such as every 
man knows among his friends, converse with the most commanding 
jxjetic genius, I think, it would appear that there was no inequality 
such as men fancy between them; that a perfect understanding, a 
like receiving, a like perceiving, abolished dilTerences, and the poet 
would confess that his creative imagination gave him no deep ad- 
vantage, but only the superficial one, that he could express himself, 
and the other could not; that his advantage was a knack, which 
might impose on indolent men, but could not impose on lovers of 
truth; for they know the tax of talent, or, what a price of greatness 
the fxjwer of expression too often pays. I believe it is the conviction 
of the purest men that the net amount of man and man does not 
much vary. Each is incomparably superior to his companion in 
some faculty. His want of skill in other directions has added to his 
fitness for his own work. Each seems to have some compensation 



NEW ENGLAND REFORMERS 269 

yielded to him by his infirmity, and every hinderance operates as a 
concentration of his force. 

These and the like experiences intimate that man stands in strict 
connection with a higher fact never yet manifested. There is power 
over and behind us, and we are the channels of its communications. 
We seek to say thus and so, and over our head some spirit sits, 
which contradicts what we say. We would persuade our fellow 
to this or that; another self within our eyes dissuades him. That 
which we keep back, this reveals. In vain we compose our faces 
and our words; it holds uncontrollable communication with the 
enemy, and he answers civilly to us, but believes the spirit. We 
exclaim, "There's a traitor in the house!" but at last it appears that 
he is the true man, and I am the traitor. This open channel to the 
highest life is the first and last reality, so subtle, so quiet, yet so 
tenacious, that although I have never expressed the truth, and al- 
though I have never heard the expression of it from any other, I 
know that the whole truth is here for me. What if I cannot answer 
your questions? I am not pained that I cannot frame a reply to the 
question, What is the operation we call Providence? There lies the 
unspoken thing, present, omnipresent. Every time we converse, we 
seek to translate it into speech, but whether we hit or whether we 
miss we have the fact. Every discourse is an approximate answer; 
but it is of small consequence that we do not get it into verbs and 
nouns, while it abides for contemplation forever. 

If the auguries of the prophesying heart shall make themselves 
good in time, the man who shall be born, whose advent men and 
events prepare and foreshow, is one who shall enjoy his connec- 
tion with a higher life, with the man within man; shall destroy 
distrust by his trust, shall use his native but forgotten methods, shall 
not take counsel of flesh and blood, but shall rely on the Law alive 
and beautiful, which works over our heads and under our feet. 
Pitiless, it avails itself of our success, when we obey it, and of our 
ruin, when we contravene it. Men are all secret believers in it, else 
the word justice would have no meaning: they believe that the 
best is the true; that right is done at last; or chaos would come. It 
rewards actions after their nature and not after the design of the 
agent. "Work," it saith to man, "in every hour, paid or unpaid, see 



270 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

only that thou work, and thou canst not escape the reward : whether 
thy work be fine or coarse, planting corn, or writing epics, so only 
it be honest work, done to thine own approbation, it shall earn a 
reward to these senses as well as to the thought: no matter, how 
often defeated, you are born to victory. The reward of a thing well 
done, is to have done it." 

As soon as a man is wonted to look beyond surfaces, and to see 
how this high will prevails without an exception or an interval, he 
settles himself into serenity. He can already rely on the laws of 
gravity, that every stone will fall where it is due; the good globe is 
faithful, and carries us securely through the celestial spaces, anxious 
or resigned; we need not interfere to help it on, and he will learn, 
one day, the mild lesson they teach, that our own orbit is all our 
task, and we need not assist the administration of the universe. Do 
not be so impatient to set the town right concerning the unfounded 
pretensions and the false reputation of certain men of standing. 
They are laboring harder to set the town right concerning them- 
selves, and will certainly succeed. Suppress for a few days your 
criticism on the insufficiency of this or that teacher or experimenter, 
and he will have demonstrated his insufficiency to all men's eyes. 
In like manner, let a man fall into the divine circuits, and he is 
enlarged. Obedience to his genius is the only liberating influence. 
We wish to escape from subjection, and a sense of inferiority — and 
we make self-denying ordinances, we drink water, we eat grass, we 
refuse the laws, we go to jail: it is all in vain; only by obedience to 
his genius; only by the freest activity in the way constitutional to 
him, does an angel seem to arise before a man, and lead him by the 
hand out of all the wards of the prison. 

That which befits us, embosomed in beauty and wonder as we are, 
is cheerfulness and courage, and the endeavor to realize our aspira- 
tions. The life of man is the true romance, which, when it is 
valiantly conducted, will yield the imagination a higher joy than any 
fiction. All around us, what powers are wrapped up under the 
coarse mattings of custom, and all wonder prevented. It is so 
wonderful to our neurologists that a man can see without his eyes, 
that it does not occur to them that it is just as wonderful that he 
should see with them; and that is ever the difference between the 



NEW ENGLAND REFORMERS TJX 

wise and the unwise; the latter wonders at what is unusual, the 
wise man wonders at the usual. Shall not the heart which has re- 
ceived so much, trust the Power by which it lives? May it not quit 
other leadings, and listen to the Soul that has guided it so gently, 
and taught it so much, secure that the future will be worthy of the 
past ? 



WORSHIP 

(i860) 

This is he, who felled by foes, 

Sprung harmless up, refreshed by blows: 

He to captivity was sold, 

But him no prison-bars would hold: 

Though they scaled him in a rock. 

Mountain chains he can unlock: 

Thrown to lions for their meat, 

The crouching lion kissed his feet: 

Bound to the stake, no flames appalled. 

But arched o'er him an honoring vault. 

This is he men miscall Fate, 

Threading dark ways, arriving late, 

But ever coming in time to crown 

The truth, and hurl wrongdoers down. 

He is the oldest, and best known. 

More near than aught thou call'st thy own. 

Yet, greeted in another's eyes. 

Disconcerts with glad surprise. 

This is Jove, who, deaf to prayers. 

Floods with blessings unawares. 

Draw, if thou canst, the mystic line, 

Severing righdy his from thine, 

Which is human, which divine. 

SOME of my friends have complained, when the preceding 
papers were read, that we discussed Fate, Power, and Wealth, 
on too low a platform; gave too much line to the evil spirit 
of the times; too many cakes to Cerberus; that we ran Cudworth's 
risk of making, by excess of candor, the argument of atheism so 
strong, that he could not answer it. I have no fears of being forced 
in my own despite to play, as we say, the devil's attorney. I have 
no infirmity of faith; no belief that it is of much importance what 
I or any man may say: I am sure that a certain truth will be said 
through me, though I should be dumb, or though I should try to 

27? 



274 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

say the reverse. Nor do I fear skepticism for any good soul. A just 
thinker will allow full swing to his skepticism. I dip my pen in the 
blackest ink, because I am not afraid of faUing into my inkpot. I 
have no sympathy with a {xwr man I knew, who, when suicides 
abounded, told me he dared not look at his razor. We are of 
different opinions at different hours, but we always may be said to 
be at heart on the side of truth. 

I see not why we should give ourselves such sanctified airs. If 
the Divine Providence has hid from men neither disease, nor de- 
formity, nor corrupt society, but has stated itself out in passions, in 
war, in trade, in the love of power and pleasure, in hunger and 
need, in tyrannies, literatures, and arts, — let us not be so nice that 
we cannot write these facts down coarsely as they stand, or doubt 
but there is a counter-statement as ponderous, which we can arrive 
at, and which, being put, will make all square. The solar system has 
no anxiety about its reputation, and the credit of truth and honesty 
is as safe; nor have I any fear that a skeptical bias can be given by 
leaning hard on the sides of fate, of practical power, or of trade, 
which the doctrine of Faith cannot downweigh. The strength of 
that principle is not measured in ounces and pounds: it tyrannizes 
at the centre of Nature. We may well give skepticism as much line 
as we can. The spirit will return, and fill us. It drives the drivers. 
It counterbalances any accumulations of power. 

"Heaven kindly gave our blood a moral flow." 

We are born loyal. The whole creation is made of hooks and eyes, 
of bitumen, of sticking-plaster, and whether your community is 
made in Jerusalem or in CaUfornia, of saints or of wreckers, it 
coheres in a perfect ball. Men as naturally make a state, or a church, 
as caterpillars a web. If they were more refined, it would be less 
formal, it would be nervous, like that of the shakers, who, from 
long habit of thinking and feeling together, it is said, are affected 
in the same way, at the same time, to work and to play, and as 
they go with perfect sympathy to their tasks in the field or shop, 
so are they inclined for a ride or a journey at the same instant, and 
the horses come up with the family carriage unbespoken to the 
door. 



WORSHIP 275 

We are born believing. A man bears beliefs, as a tree bears apples. 
A self-poise belongs to every particle; and a rectitude to every mind, 
and is the Nemesis and protector of every society. I and my neigh- 
bors have been bred in the notion, that, unless we came soon to 
some good church, — Calvinism, or Behmenism, or Romanism, or 
Mormonism, — there would be a universal thaw and dissolution. No 
Isaiah or Jeremy has arrived. Nothing can exceed the anarchy that 
has followed in our skies. The stern old faiths have all pulverized. 
Tis a whole population of gentlemen and ladies out in search of 
religions. *Tis as flat anarchy in our ecclesiastic realms, as that which 
existed in Massachusetts, in the Revolution, or which prevails now 
on the slope of the Rocky Mountains or Pike's Peak. Yet we make 
shift to live. Men are loyal. Nature has self-poise in all her works; 
certain proportions in which oxygen and azote combine, and, not 
less a harmony in faculties, a fitness in the spring and the regu- 
lator. 

The decline of the influence of Calvin, or Fenelon, or Wesley, or 
Channing, need give us no uneasiness. The builder of heaven has 
not so ill constructed his creature as that the religion, that is, the 
public nature, should fall out: the public and the private element, 
like north and south, like inside and outside, like centrifugal and 
centripetal, adhere to every soul, and cannot be subdued, except the 
soul is dissipated. God builds his temple in the heart on the ruins 
of churches and religions. 

In the last chapters, we treated some particulars of the question of 
culture. But the whole state of man is a state of culture; and its 
flowering and completion may be described as Religion, or Worship. 
There is always some religion, some hope and fear extended into 
the invisible, — from the blind boding which nails a horseshoe to the 
mast or the threshold, up to the song of the Elders in the Apocalypse. 
But the religion cannot rise above the state of the votary. Heaven 
always bears some proportion to earth. The god of the cannibals 
will be a cannibal, of the crusaders a crusader, and of the merchants 
a merchant. In all ages, souls out of time, extraordinary, prophetic, 
are born, who are rather related to the system of the world, than to 
their particular age and locality. These announce absolute truths, 
which, with whatever reverence received, are speedily dragged down 



276 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

into a savage interpretation. The interior tribes of our Indians, and 
some of the Pacific islanders, flog their gods, when things take an 
unfavorable turn. The Greek poets did not hesitate to let lose their 
petulant wit on their deities also. Laomedon, in his anger at Nep- 
tune and Apollo, who had built Troy for him, and demanded their 
price, does not hesitate to menace them that he will cut their ears 
off.' ^ jnong our Norse forefathers, King Olaf's mode of converting 
Eyvind to Christianity was to put a pan of glowing coals on his 
belly, which burst asunder. "Wilt thou now, Eyvind, believe in 
Christ?" asks Olaf, in excellent faith. Another argument was an 
adder put into the mouth of the reluctant disciple Rand, who re- 
fused to believe. 

Christianity, in the romantic ages, signified European culture, — 
the grafted or meliorated tree in a crab forest. And to marry a 
pagan wife or husband, was to marry Beast, and voluntarily to take a 
step backwards towards the baboon. 

"Hengist had verameni 
A daughter both fair and gent. 
But she was heathen Sarazine, 
And Vortigern for love fine 
Her took to fere and to wife, 
And was cursed in all his life; 
For he let Christian wed heathen. 
And mixed our blood as flesh and mathen."' 

What Gothic mixtures the Christian creed drew from the pagan 
sources, Richard of Devizes's chronicle of Richard I.'s crusade, in 
the twelfth century, may show. King Richard taunts God with 
forsaking him: "O fie! O how unwilling should I be to forsake thee, 
in so forlorn and dreadful a position, were I thy lord and advocate, 
as thou art mine. In sooth, my standards will in future be despised, 
not through my fault, but through thine: in sooth, not through any 
cowardice of my warfare, art thou thyself, my king and my God 
conquered, this day, and not Richard thy vassal." The religion of 
the early English poets is anomalous, so devout and so blasphemous, 
in the same breath. Such is Chaucer's extraordinary confusion of 
heaven and earth in the picture of Dido. 

> Iliad, Book zxi, 1. 4SS- 'Moths or worms. 



WORSHIP 277 

"She was so fair, 
So young, so lusty, with her eyen glad. 
That if that God that heaven and earthe made 
Would have a love for beauty and goodness, 
And womanhede, truth, and seemliness. 
Whom should he loven but this lady sweet? 
There n' is no woman to him half so meet." 

With these grossnesses, we complacently compare our own taste 
and decorum. We think and speak with more temperance and 
gradation, — but is not indifferentism as bad as superstition? 

We live in a transition period, when the old faiths which com- 
forted nations, and not only so, but made nations, seem to have 
sf)ent their force. I do not find the religions of men at this moment 
very creditable to them, but either childish and insignificant, or 
unmanly and effeminating. The fatal trait is the divorce between 
religion and morality. Here are know-nothing religions, or churches 
that proscribe intellect; scortatory religions; slave-holding and slave- 
trading religions; and, even in the decent populations, idolatries 
wherein the whiteness of the ritual covers scarlet indulgence. The 
lover of the old religion complains that our contemporaries, scholars 
as well as merchants, succumb to a great despair, — have corrupted 
into a timorous conservatism, and believe in nothing. In our large 
cities, the population is godless, materialized, — no bond, no fellow- 
feeling, no enthusiasm. These are not men, but hungers, thirsts, 
fevers, and appetites walking. How is it fjeople manage to live on, 
— so aimless as they are? After their peppercorn aims are gained, 
it seems as if the lime in their bones alone held them together, and 
not any worthy purpose. There is no faith in the intellectual, none 
in the moral universe. There is faith in chemistry, in meat, and 
wine, in wealth, in machinery, in the steam-engine, galvanic bat- 
tery, turbine-wheels, sewing machines, and in public opinion, but 
not in divine causes. A silent revolution has loosed the tension of 
the old religious sects, and, in place of the gravity and permanence 
of those societies of opinion, they run into freak and extravagance. 
In creeds never was such levity; witness the heathenisms in Chris- 
tianity, the periodic "revivals," the Millennium mathematics, the pea- 
cock ritualism, the retrogression to Popery, the maundering of Mor- 
mons, the squalor of Mesmerism, the deliration of rappings, the rat 



278 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

and mouse revelation, thumps in table-drawers, and black art. The 
architecture, the music, the prayer, partake of the madness: the arts 
sink into shift and make-believe. Not knowing what to do, we ape 
our ancestors; the churches stagger backward to the mummeries of 
the dark ages. By the irresistible maturing of the general mind, the 
Christian traditions have lost their hold. The dogma of the mystic 
oflSces of Christ being dropped, and he standing on his genius as 
a moral teacher, 'tis impossible to maintain the old emphasis of his 
personality; and it recedes, as all persons must, before the sub- 
limity of the moral laws. From this change, and in the momentary 
absence of any religious genius that could offset the immense ma- 
terial activity, there is a feeUng that religion is gone. When Paul 
Leroux offered his article "Dieu" to the conductor of a leading 
French journal, he replied, "La question de Dieu manque d'ac- 
tualite." 

In Italy, Mr. Gladstone said of the late King of Naples, "it has 
been a proverb, that he has erected the negation of God into a system 
of government." In this country, the like stupefaction was in the 
air, and the phrase "higher law" became a political jibe. What proof 
of infidelity, like the toleration and propagandism of slavery ? What, 
like the direction of education? What, like the facility of conver- 
sion.? What, like the externality of churches that once sucked the 
roots of right and wrong, and now have jierished away till they 
are a speck of whitewash on the wall? What proof of skepticism 
like the base rate at which the highest mental and moral gifts are 
held? Let a man attain the highest and broadest culture that any 
American has possessed, then let him die by sea-storm, railroad col- 
lision, or other accident, and all America will acquiesce that the 
best thing has happened to him; that, after the education has gone 
far, such is the expensiveness of America, that the best use to put a 
fine person to, is, to drown him to save his board. 

Another scar of this skepticism is the distrust in human virtue. 
It is believed by well-dressed proprietors that there is no more virtue 
than they possess; that the solid portion of society exist for the arts 
of comfort : that life is an affair to put somewhat between the upper 
and lower mandibles. How prompt the suggestion of a low motive! 
Certain patriots in England devoted themselves for years to creating 



WORSHIP 279 

a public opinion that should break down the corn-laws and establish 
free trade. "Well," says the man in the street, "Cobden got a stipend 
out of it." Kossuth fled hither across the ocean to try if he could 
rouse the New World to a sympathy with European Uberty. "Aye," 
says New York, "he made a handsome thing of it, enough to make 
him comfortable for Hfe." 

See what allowance vice finds in the respectable and well<ondi- 
tioned class. If a pickpocket intrude into the society of gentlemen, 
they exert what moral force they have, and he finds himself uncom- 
fortable, and glad to get away. But if an adventurer go through all 
the forms, procure himself to be elected to a post of trust, as of 
senator, or president, — though by the same arts as we detest in the 
house-thief, — the same gentlemen who agree to discountenance the 
private rogue, will be forward to show civihties and marks of respect 
to the public one: and no amount of evidence of his crimes will 
prevent them giving him ovations, complimentary dinners, opening 
their own houses to him, and priding themselves on his acquaint- 
ance. We were not deceived by the professions of the private ad- 
venturer, — the louder he talked of his honor, the faster we counted 
our spoons; but we appeal to the sanctified preamble of the messages 
and proclamations of the public sinner, as the proof of sincerity. It 
must be that they who pay this homage have said to themselves, On 
the whole, we don't know about this that you call honesty; a bird 
in the hand is better. 

Even well-disposed, good sort of people are touched with the 
same infidelity, and for brave, straightforward action, use half- 
measures and compromises. Forgetful that a little measure is a great 
error, forgetful that a wise mechanic uses a sharp tool, they go on 
choosing the dead men of routine. But the official men can in 
nowise help you in any question of to-day, they deriving entirely 
from the old dead things. Only those can help in counsel or conduct 
who did not make a party pledge to defend this or that, but who 
were appointed by God Almighty, before they came into the world, 
to stand for this which they uphold. 

It has been charged that a want of sincerity in the leading men is 
a vice general throughout American society. But the multitude of 
the sick shall not make us deny the existence of health. In spite of 



28o RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

our imbecility and terrors, and "universal decay of religion," &c. &c, 
the moral sense reappears to-day with the same morning newness 
that has been from of old the fountain of beauty and strength. You 
say, there is no religion now. 'Tis like saying in rainy weather, 
there is no sun, when at that moment we are witnessing one of his 
superlative effects. The religion of the cultivated class now, to be 
sure, consists in an avoidance of acts and engagements which it was 
once their religion to assume. But this avoidance will yield spon- 
taneous forms in their due hour. There is a principle which is the 
basis of things, which all speech aims to say, and all action to evolve, 
a simple, quiet, undescribed, undescribable presence, dwelling very 
peacefully in us, our rightful lord: we are not to do, but to let do; 
not to work, but to be worked upon; and to this homage there is 
a consent of all thoughtful and just men in all ages and conditions. 
To this sentiment belong vast and sudden enlargements of power. 
'Tis remarkable that our faith in ecstasy consists with total inex- 
perience of it. It is the order of the world to educate with accuracy 
the senses and the understanding; and the enginery at work to 
draw out these powers in priority, no doubt, has its office. But we 
are never without a hint that these powers are mediate and servile, 
and that we are one day to deal with real being, — essences with 
essences. Even the fury of material activity has some results friendly 
to moral health. The energetic action of the times develops indi- 
vidualism, and the religious appear isolated. I esteem this a step 
in the right direction. Heaven deals with us on no representative 
system. Souls are not saved in bundles. The Spirit saith to the 
man, "How is it with thee? thee personally? is it well? is it ill? 
For a great nature, it is a happiness to escape a religious training, 
— rehgion of character is so apt to be invaded. Religion must always 
be a crab fruit: it cannot be grafted and keep its wild beauty. "I 
have seen," said a traveller who had known the extremes of society, 
"I have seen human nature in all its forms, it is everywhere the 
same, but the wilder it is, the more virtuous." 

We say, the old forms of religion decay, and that a skepticism 
devastates the community. I do not think it can be cured or stayed 
by any modification of theologic creeds, much less by theologic dis- 
cipline. The cure for false theology is motherwit. Forget your 



WORSHIP 281 

books and traditions, and obey your moral perceptions at this hour. 
That which is signified by the words "moral" and "spiritual," is a 
lasting essence, and, with whatever illusions we have loaded them, 
will certainly bring back the words, age after age, to their ancient 
meaning. I know no words that mean so much. In our definitions, 
we grope after the spiritual by describing it as invisible. The true 
meaning of spiritual is real; that law which executes itself, which 
works without means, and which cannot be conceived as not exist- 
ing. Men talk of "mere morality," — which is much as if one should 
say, "poor God, with nobody to help him." I find the omnipresence 
and the almightiness in the reaction of every atom in Nature. I can 
best indicate by examples those reactions by which every part of 
Nature replies to the purpose of the actor, — beneficently to the good, 
penally to the bad. Let us replace sentimentalism by realism, and 
dare to uncover those simple and terrible laws which, be they seen 
or unseen, pervade and govern. 

Every man takes care that his neighbor shall not cheat him. But 
a day comes when he begins to care that he do not cheat his neigh- 
bor. Then all goes well. He has changed his market<art into a 
chariot of the sun. What a day dawns, when we have taken to heart 
the doctrine of faith! to prefer, as a better investment, being to 
doing; being to seeming; logic to rhythm and to display; the year 
to the day; the life to the year; character to performance; — and have 
come to know, that justice will be done us; and, if our genius is slow, 
the term will be long. 

'Tis certain that worship stands in some commanding relation to 
the health of man, and to his highest powers, so as to be, in some 
manner, the source of intellect. All the great ages have been ages of 
belief. I mean, when there was any extraordinary power of per- 
formance, when great national movements began, when arts ap- 
peared, when heroes existed, when poems were made, the human 
soul was in earnest, and had fixed its thoughts on spiritual verities, 
with as strict a grasp as that of the hands on the sword, or the 
pencil, or the trowel. It is true that genius takes its rise out of the 
mountains of rectitude; that all beauty and power which men covet, 
are somehow born out of that Alpine district; that any extraordinary 
degree of beauty in man or woman involves a moral charm. Thus, 



282 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

I think, we very slowly admit in another man a higher degree of 
moral sentiment than our own, — a finer conscience, more impression- 
able, or, which marks minuter degrees; an ear to hear acuter notes 
of right and wrong, than we can. I think we listen suspiciously, 
and very slowly to any evidence to that point. But, once satisfied of 
such superiority, we set no limit to our expectation of his genius. 
For such persons are nearer to the secret of God than others; are 
bathed by sweeter waters; they hear notices, they see visions, where 
others are vacant. We believe that holiness confers a certain insight, 
because not by our private, but by our public force, can we share and 
know the nature of things. 

There is an intimate interdependence of intellect and morals. 
Given the equality of two intellects, — which will form the most re- 
liable judgments, the good, or the bad hearted? "The heart has its 
arguments, with which the understanding is not acquainted." For 
the heart is at once aware of the state of health or disease, which is 
the controlling state, that is, of sanity or of insanity, prior, of course, 
to all question of the ingenuity of arguments, the amount of facts, 
or the elegance of rhetoric. So intimate is this alliance of mind and 
heart, that talent uniformly sinks with character. The bias of errors 
of principle carries away men into fjerilous courses, as soon as their 
will does not control their passion or talent. Hence the extraordinary 
blunders, and final wrong head, into which men spoiled by ambition 
usually fall. Hence the remedy for all blunders, the cure of blind- 
ness, the cure of crime, is love. "As much love, so much mind," 
said the Latin proverb. The superiority that has no superior; the 
redeemer and instructor of souls, as it is their primal essence, is 
love. 

The moral must be the measure of health. If your eye is on the 
eternal, your intellect will grow, and your opinions and actions will 
have a beauty which no learning or combined advantages of other 
men can rival. The moment of your loss of faith, and acceptance 
of the lucrative standard, will be marked in the pause, or solstice of 
genius, the sequent retrogression, and the inevitable loss of attraction 
to other minds. The vulgar are sensible of the change in you, and 
of your descent, though they clap you on the back, and congratulate 
you on your increased common sense. 



WORSHIP 283 

Our recent culture has been in natural science. We have learned 
the manners of the sun and of the moon, of the rivers and the rains, 
of the mineral and elemental kingdoms, of plants and animals. 
Man has learned to weigh the sun, and its weight neither loses nor 
gains. The path of a star, the moment of an eclipse, can be deter- 
mined to the fraction of a second. Well, to him the book of history, 
the book of love, the lures of passion, and the commandments of 
duty are opened : and the next lesson taught, is, the continuation of 
the inflexible law of matter into the subtile kingdom of will, and 
of thought; that, if, in sidereal ages, gravity and projection keep 
their craft, and the ball never loses its way in its wild path through 
space, — a secreter gravitation, a secreter projection, rule not less 
tyrannically in human history, and keep the balance of power from 
age to age unbroken. For, though the new element of freedom and 
an individual has been admitted, yet the primordial atoms are pre- 
figured and predetermined to moral issues, are in search of justice, 
and ultimate right is done. Religion or worship is the attitude of 
those who see this unity, intimacy, and sincerity; who see that, 
against all appearances, the nature of things works for truth and 
right forever. 

'Tis a short sight to limit our faith in laws to those of gravity, of 
chemistry, of botany, and so forth. Those laws do not stop where our 
eyes lose them, but push the same geometry and chemistry up into 
the invisible plane of social and rational life, so that, look where we 
will, in a boy's game, or in the strifes of races, a perfect reaction, a 
perpetual judgment keeps watch and ward. And this appears in a 
class of facts which concerns all men, within and above their creeds. 

Shallow men believe in luck, believe in circumstances: It was 
somebody's name, or he happened to be there at the time, or, it was 
so then, and another day it would have been otherwise. Strong men 
believe in cause and effect. The man was born to do it, and his 
father was born to be the father of him and of this deed, and, by 
looking narrowly, you shall see there was no luck in the matter, 
but it was all a problem in arithmetic, or an experiment in chem- 
istry. The curve of the flight of the moth is preordained, and all 
things go by number, rule, and weight. 

Skepticism is unbelief in cause and effect. A man does not see, 



284 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

that, as he eats, so he thinks: as he deals, so he is, and so he appears; 
he does not see, that his son is the son of his thoughts and of his 
actions; that fortunes are not exceptions but fruits; that relation and 
connection are not somewhere and sometimes, but everywhere and 
always; no miscellany, no exemption, no anomaly, — but method, 
and an even web; and what comes out, that was put in. As we are, 
so we do; and as we do, so is it done to us; we are the builders of our 
fortunes; cant and lying and the attempt to secure a good which does 
not belong to us, are, once for all, balked and vain. But, in the 
human mind, this tie of fate is made alive. The law is the basis of 
the human mind. In us, it is inspiration; out there in Nature, we see 
its fatal strength. We call it the moral sentiment. 

We owe to the Hindoo Scriptures a definition of Law, which com- 
pares well with any in our Western books. "Law it is, which is 
without name, or color, or hands, or feet; which is smallest of the 
least, and largest of the large; all, and knowing all things; which 
hears without ears, sees without eyes, moves without feet, and seizes 
without hands." 

If any reader tax me with using vague and traditional phrases, let 
me suggest to him, by a few examples, what kind of a trust this is, 
and how real. Let me show him that the dice are loaded; that the 
colors are fast, because they are the native colors of the fleece; that the 
globe is a battery, because every atom is a magnet; and that the police 
and sincerity of the Universe are secured by God's delegating his 
divinity to every particle; that there is no room for hypocrisy, no 
margin for choice. 

The countryman leaving his native village, for the first time, and 
going abroad, finds all his habits broken up. In a new nation and 
language, his sect, as Quaker, or Lutheran, is lost. What! it is not 
then necessary to the order and existence of society ? He misses this, 
and the commanding eye of his neighborhood, which held him to 
decorum. This is the peril of New York, of New Orleans, of Lon- 
don, of Paris, to young men. But after a little experience, he makes 
the discovery that there are no large cities, — none large enough to 
hide in; that the censors of action are as numerous and as near in 
Paris, as in Littleton or Portland; that the gossip is as prompt and 
vengeful. There is no concealment, and, for each offence, a several 



WORSHIP 285 

vengeance; that, reaction, or nothing for nothing, or, things are as 
broad as they are long, is not a rule for Littleton or Portland, but for 
the Universe. 

We cannot spare the coarsest muniment of virtue. We are dis- 
gusted by gossip; yet it is of importance to keep the angels in their 
proprieties. The smallest fly will draw blood, and gossip is a weapon 
impossible to exclude from the privatest, highest, selectest. Nature 
created a fxilice of many ranks. God has delegated himself to a mil- 
lion deputies. From these low external p)enalties, the scale ascends. 
Next come the resentments, the fears, which injustice calls out; then, 
the false relations in which the offender is put to other men; and the 
reaction of his fault on himself, in the solitude and devastation of his 
mind. 

You cannot hide any secret. If the artist succor his flagging spirits 
by opium or wine, his work will characterize itself as the effect of 
opium or wine. If you make a picture or a statue, it sets the beholder 
in that state of mind you had, when you made it. If you spend for 
show, on building, or gardening, or on pictures, or on equipages, it 
will so appear. We are all physiognomists and penetrators of char- 
acter, and things themselves are detective. If you follow the suburban 
fashion in building a sumptuous-looking house for a little money, it 
will appear to all eyes as a cheap dear house. There is no privacy 
that cannot be f)enetrated. No secret can be kept in the civilized 
world. Society is a masked ball, where every one hides his real char- 
acter, and reveals it by hiding. If a man wish to conceal anything he 
carries, those whom he meets know that he conceals somewhat, and 
usually know what he conceals. Is it otherwise if there be some belief 
or some purpose he would bury in his breast ? 'Tis as hard to hide as 
fire. He is a strong man who can hold down his opinion. A man 
cannot utter two or three sentences, without disclosing to intelligent 
ears precisely where he stands in life and thought, namely, whether 
in the kingdom of the senses and the understanding, or, in that of 
ideas and imagination, in the realm of intuitions and duty. People 
seem not to see that their opinion of the world is also a confession of 
character. We can only see what we are, and if we misbehave we 
suspect others. The fame of Shakspeare or of Voltaire, of Thomas £k 
Kempis, or of Bonaparte, characterizes those who give it. As gas- 



286 RALPH WAUX> EMERSON 

light is found to be the best nocturnal police, so the universe protects 
itself by pitiless publicity. 

Each must be armed — not necessarily with musket and pike. 
Happy, if, seeing these, he can feel that he has better muskets and 
pikes in his energy and constancy. To every creature is his own 
weapon, however skilfully concealed from himself, a good while 
His work is sword and shield. Let him accuse none, let him injure 
none. The way to mend the bad world, is to create the right world. 
Here is a low political economy plotting to cut the throat of foreign 
comjjetition, and establish our own; — excluding others by force, or 
making war on them; or, by cunning tariffs, giving preference to 
worse wares of ours. But the real and lasting victories are those of 
p)eace, and not of war. The way to conquer the foreign artisan, is, 
not to kill him, but to beat his work. And the Crystal Palaces and 
the World Fairs, with their committees and prizes on all kinds of 
industry, are the result of this feeling. The American workman who 
strikes ten blows with his hammer, whilst the foreign workman only 
strikes one, is as really vanquishing that foreigner, as if the blows 
were aimed at and told on his person. I look on that man as happy, 
who, when there is question of success, looks into his work for a 
reply, not into the market, not into opinion, not into patronage. In 
every variety of human employment, in the mechanical and in the 
fine arts, in navigation, in farming, in legislating, there are among 
the numbers who do their task perfunctorily, as we say, or just to 
pass, and as badly as they dare, — there are the working-men on 
whom the burden of the business falls, — those who love work, and 
love to see it rightly done, who finish their task for its own sake; 
and the state and the world is happy, that has the most of such 
finishers. The world will always do justice at last to such finishers: 
it cannot otherwise. He who has acquired the ability, may wait 
securely the occasion of making it felt and appreciated, and know 
that it will not loiter. Men talk as if victory were something 
fortunate. Work is victory. Wherever work is done, victory is 
obtained. There is no chance, and no blanks. You want but one 
verdict : if you have your own, you are secure of the rest. And yet, if 
witnesses are wanted, witnesses are near. There was never a man 
born so wise or good, but one or more companions came into the 



WORSHIP 287 

world with him, who dehght in his faculty, and report it. I cannot 
see without awe, that no man thinks alone, and no man acts alone, 
but the divine assessors who came up with him into life, — now under 
one disguise, now under another, — like a police in citizens' clothes, 
walk with him, step for step, through all the kingdom of time. 

This reaction, this sincerity is the prof)erty of all things. To make 
our word or act sublime, we must make it real. It is our system that 
counts, not the single word or unsupported action. Use what lan- 
guage you will, you can never say anything but what you are. What 
I am, and what I think, is conveyed to you, in spite of my efforts 
to hold it back. What I am has been secretly conveyed from me to 
another, whilst I was vainly making up my mind to tell him it. He 
has heard from me what 1 never spoke. 

As men get on in hfe, they acquire a love for sincerity, and some- 
what less solicitude to be lulled or amused. In the progress of the 
character, there is an increasing faith in the moral sentiment, and a 
decreasing faith in profxjsitions. Young f)eople admire talents, and 
particular excellences. As we grow older, we value total powers 
and effects, as the spirit, or quality of the man. We have another 
sight, and a new standard; an insight which disregards what is 
done jor the eye, and pierces to the doer; an ear which hears not 
what men say, but hears what they do not say. 

There was a wise, devout man who is called, in the Catholic 
Church, St. Philip Neri, of whom many anecdotes touching his 
discernment and benevolence are told at Naples and Rome. Among 
the nuns in a convent not far from Rome, one had appeared, who 
laid claim to certain rare gifts of inspiration and prophecy, and the 
abbess advised the Holy Father, at Rome, of the wonderful f)owers 
shown by her novice. The Pope did not well know what to make 
of these new claims, and Philip coming in from a journey, one day, 
he consulted him. Philip undertook to visit the nun, and ascertain 
her charaaer. He threw himself on his mule, all travel-soiled as he 
was, and hastened through the mud and mire to the distant convent. 
He told the abbess the wishes of his Holiness, and begged her to 
summon the nun without delay. The nun was sent for, and, as soon 
as she came into the apartment, Philip stretched out his leg all 
bespattered with mud, and desired her to draw off his boots. The 



288 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

young nun, who had become the object of much attention and 
respect, drew back with anger, and refused the office: Philip ran out 
of doors, mounted his mule, and returned instantly to the Pope; 
"Give yourself no uneasiness. Holy Father, any longer: here is no 
miracle, for here is no humility." 

We need not much mind what people please to say, but what they 
must say; what their natures say, though their busy, artful Yankee 
understandings try to hold back, and choke that word, and to 
articulate something different. If we will sit quietly, — what they 
ought to say is said, with their will, or against their will. We do not 
care for you, let us pretend what we will: — we are always looking 
through you to the dim dictator behind you. Whilst your habit or 
whim chatters, we civilly and impatiently wait until that wise 
superior shall speak again. Even children are not deceived by the 
false reasons which their parents give in answer to their questions, 
whether touching natural facts, or religion, or persons. When the 
parent, instead of thinking how it really is, puts them off with a 
traditional or a hypHxritical answer, the children fjerceive that it is 
traditional or hypocritical. To a sound constitution the defect of 
another is at once manifest: and the marks of it are only concealed 
from us by our own dislocation. An anatomical observer remarks, 
that the sympathies of the chest, abdomen, and pelvis, tell at last on 
the face, and on all its features. Not only does our beauty waste, 
but it leaves word how it went to waste. Physiognomy and phre- 
nology are not new sciences, but declarations of the soul that it is 
aware of certain new sources of information. And now sciences of 
broader scope are starting up behind these. And so for ourselves, it 
is really of little importance what blunders in statement we make, 
so only we make no wilful departures from the truth. How a man's 
truth comes to mind, long after we have forgotten all his words! 
How it comes to us in silent hours, that truth is our only armor in 
all passages of life and death! Wit is cheap, and anger is cheap; 
but if you cannot argue or explain yourself to the other party, cleave 
to the truth against me, against thee, and you gain a station from 
which you cannot be dislodged. The other party will forget the 
words that you spoke, but the part you took continues to plead for 
you. 



WORSHIP 289 

Why should I hasten to solve every riddle which life offers me? 
I am well assured that the Questioner, who brings me so many 
problems, will bring the answers also in due time. Very rich, very 
potent, very cheerful Giver that he is, he shall have it all his own 
way, for me. Why should I give up my thought, because I cannot 
answer an objection to it? Consider only, whether it remains in my 
life the same it was. That only which we have within, can we see 
without. If we meet no gods, it is because we harbor none. If there 
is grandeur in you, you will find grandeur in porters and sweeps. 
He only is rightly immortal, to whom all things are immortal. I 
have read somewhere, that none is accomplished, so long as any are 
incomplete; that the happiness of one cannot consist with the misery 
of any other. 

The Buddhists say, "No seed will die;" every seed will grow. 
Where is the service which can escap)e its remuneration? What is 
vulgar, and the essence of all vulgarity, but the avarice of reward? 
'Tis the difference of artisan and artist, of talent and genius, of 
sinner and saint. The man whose eyes are nailed not on the nature 
of his act, but on the wages, whether it be money, or office, or fame, — 
is almost equally low. He is great, whose eyes are opened to see that 
the reward of actions cannot be escaped, because he is transformed 
into his action, and taketh its nature, which bears its own fruit, Uke 
every other tree. A great man cannot be hindered of the effect of 
his act, because it is immediate. The genius of life is friendly to 
the noble, and in the dark brings them friends from far. Fear 
God, and where you go, men shall think they walk in hallowed 
cathedrals. 

And so I look on those sentiments which make the glory of the 
human being, love, humility, faith, as being also the intimacy of 
Divinity in the atoms; and that, as soon as the man is right, assur- 
ances and provisions emanate from the interior of his body and his 
mind; as, when flowers reach their ripeness, incense exhales from 
them, and as a beautiful atmosphere is generated from the planet 
by the averaged emanations from all its rocks and soils. 

Thus man is made equal to every event. He can face danger for 
the right. A poor, tender, painful body, he can run into flame or 
bullets or pestilence, with duty for his guide. He feels the insurance 



290 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

of a just employment. I am not afraid of accident, as long as I am in 
my place. It is strange that superior persons should not feel that 
they have some better resistance against cholera, than avoiding 
green peas and salads. Life is hardly respectable, — is it ? if it has no 
generous guaranteeing task, no duties or afleaions, that constitute 
a necessity of existing. Every man's task is his life-preserver. The 
conviction that his work is dear to God and cannot be spared, 
defends him. The lightning-rod that disarms the cloud of its threat 
is his body in its duty. A high aim reacts on the means, on the 
days, on the organs of the body. A high aim is curative, as well as 
arnica. "Napoleon," says Goethe, "visited those sick of the plague, 
in order to prove that the man who could banish fear, could van- 
quish the plague also; and he was right. 'Tis incredible what force 
the will has in such cases: it penetrates the body, and puts it in a 
state of activity, which repels all hurtful influences; whilst fear 
invites them." 

It is related of William of Orange, that, whilst he was besieging 
a town on the continent, a gentleman sent to him on public business 
came to his camp, and learning that the King was before the walls, 
he ventured to go where he was. He found him directing the 
operation of his gunners, and, having explained his errand, and 
received his answer, the King said, "Do you not know, sir, that 
every moment you spend here is at the risk of your Ufe?" "I run 
no more risk," replied the gentleman, "than your Majesty." "Yes," 
said the King, "but my duty brings me here, and yours does not." 
In a few minutes, a cannon-ball fell on the spot, and the gentleman 
was killed. 

Thus can the faithful student reverse all the warnings of his early 
instinct, under the guidance of a deeper instinct. He learns to 
welcome misfortune, learns that adversity is the prosperity of the 
great. He learns the greatness of humility. He shall work in the 
dark, work against failure, pain, and ill-will. If he is insulted, he 
can be insulted; all his affair is not to insult. Haiiz writes, 

"At the last day, men shall wear 
On their heads the dust. 
As ensign and as ornament 
Of their lowly trust." 



WORSHIP 291 

The moral equalizes all; enriches, empowers all. It is the coin 
which buys all, and which all find in their pocket. Under the whip 
of the driver, the slave shall feel his equality with saints and heroes. 
In the greatest destitution and calamity, it surprises man with a 
feeUng of elasticity which makes nothing of loss. 

I recall some traits of a remarkable person whose life and discourse 
betrayed many inspirations of this sentiment. Benedict was always 
great in the present time. He had hoarded nothing from the past, 
neither in his cabinets, neither in his memory. He had no designs 
on the future, neither for what he should do to men, nor for what 
men should do for him. He said, "I am never beaten until I know 
that I am beaten. I meet powerful brutal people to whom I have no 
skill to reply. They think they have defeated me. It is so published 
in society, in the journals: I am defeated in this fashion, in all 
men's sight, perhaps on a dozen different lines. My ledger may show 
that I am in debt, cannot yet make my ends meet, and vanquish the 
enemy so. My race may not be prospering: we are sick, ugly, obscure, 
unpopular. My children may be worsted. I seem to fail in my 
friends and clients, too. That is to say, in all the encounters that 
have yet chanced, I have not been weaponed for that particular occa- 
sion, and have been historically beaten; and yet, I know, all the time, 
that I have never been beaten; have never yet fought, shall certainly 
fight, when my hour comes, and shall beat." "A man," says the 
Vishnu Sarma, "who having well compared his own strength or 
weakness with that of others, after all doth not know the difference, 
is easily overcome by his enemies." 

"I spent," he said, "ten months in the country. Thick-starred 
Orion was my only companion. Wherever a squirrel or a bee can 
go with security, I can go. I ate whatever was set before me, I 
touched ivy and dogwood. When I went abroad, I kept company 
with every man on the road, for I knew that my evil and my good 
did not come from these, but from the Spirit, whose servant I was. 
For I could not stoop to be a circumstance, as they did, who put their 
life into their fortune and their company. I would not degrade my- 
self by casting about in my memory for a thought, nor by waiting 
for one. If the thought come, I would give it entertainment. It 
should, as it ought, go into my hands and feet; but if it come not 



292 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

spontaneously, it comes not rightly at all. If it can spare me, I am 
sure I can spare it. It shall be the same with my friends. I will never 
woo the loveliest. I will not ask any friendship or favor. When I 
come to my own, we shall both know it. Nothing will be to be 
asked or to be granted." Benedict went out to seek his friend, and 
met him on the way; but he expressed no surprise at any coinci- 
dences. On the other hand, if he called at the door of his friend, and 
he was not at home, he did not go again; concluding that he had 
misinterpreted the intimations. 

He had the whim not to make an apology to the same individual 
whom he had wronged. For this, he said, was a piece of personal 
vanity; but he would correct his conduct in that resf)ect in which he 
had faulted, to the next person he should meet. Thus, he said, 
universal justice was satisfied. 

Mira came to ask what she should do with the poor Genesee 
woman who had hired herself to work for her, at a shilling a day, 
and, now sickening, was like to be bedridden on her hands. Should 
she keep her, or should she dismiss her? But Benedict said, "Why 
ask.? One thing will clear itself as the thing to be done, and not 
another, when the hour comes. Is it a question, whether to put her 
into the street? Just as much whether to thrust the little Jenny on 
your arm into the street. The milk and meal you give the beggar, 
will fatten Jenny. Thrust the woman out, and you thrust your babe 
out of doors, whether it so seem to you or not." 

In the Shakers, so called, I find one piece of belief, in the doctrine 
which they faithfully hold, that encourages them to open their doors 
to every wayfaring man who proposes to come among them; for, 
they say, the Spirit will presently manifest to the man himself, and 
to the society, what manner of person he is, and whether he belongs 
among them. They do not receive him, they do not reject him. And 
not in vain have they worn their clay coat, and drudged in their 
fields, and shuffled in their Bruin dance, from year to year, if they 
have truly learned thus much wisdom. 

Honor him whose life is perpetual victory; him, who, by sympathy 
with the invisible and real, finds support in labor, instead of praise; 
who does not shine, and would rather not. With eyes open, he makes 
the choice of virtue, which outrages the virtuous; of religion, which 



WORSHIP 293 

churches stop their discords to burn and exterminate; for the highest 
virtue is always against the law. 

Miracle comes to the miraculous, not to the arithmetician. Talent 
and success interest me but moderately. The great class, they who 
affect our imagination, the men who could not make their hands 
meet around their objects, the rapt, the lost, the fools of ideas, — 
they suggest what they cannot execute. They speak to the ages, 
and are heard from afar. The Spirit does not love cripples and mal- 
formations. If there ever was a good man, be certain, there was 
another, and will be more. 

And so in relation to that future hour, that spectre clothed with 
beauty at our curtain by night, at our table by day, — the apprehen- 
sion, the assurance of a coming change. The race of mankind have 
always offered at least this implied thanks for the gift of existence, — 
namely, the terror of its being taken away; the insatiable curiosity 
and appetite for its continuation. The whole revelation that is vouch- 
safed us, is, the gentle trust, which, in our experience we find, will 
cover also with flowers the slopes of this chasm. 

Of immortality, the soul, when well employed, is incurious. It is 
so well, that it is sure it will be well. It asks no questions of the 
Supreme Power. The son of Antiochus asked his father, when he 
would join battle? "Dost thou fear," replied the King, "that thou 
only in all the army wilt not hear the trumpet?" 'Tis a higher thing 
to confide, that, if it is best we should live, we shall live, — 'tis higher 
to have this conviction, than to have the lease of indefinite centuries 
and millenniums and seons. Higher than the question of our dura- 
tion is the question of our deserving. Immortality will come to such 
as are fit for it, and he who would be a great soul in future, must be 
a great soul now. It is a doctrine too great to rest on any legend, 
that is, on any man's experience but our own. It must be proved, 
if at all, from our own activity and designs, which imply an inter- 
minable future for their play. 

What is called religion effeminates and demoralizes. Such as you 
are, the gods themselves could not help you. Men are too often unfit 
to live, from their obvious inequality to their own necessities, or, 
they suffer from politics, or bad neighbors, or from sickness, and 
they would gladly know that they were to be dismissed from the 



294 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

duties of life. But the wise instinct asks, "How will death help 
them?" These are not dismissed when they die. You shall not wish 
for death out of pusillanimity. The weight of the Universe is pressed 
down on the shoulders of each moral agent to hold him to his task. 
The only path of escape known in all the worlds of God is per- 
formance. You must do your work, before you shall be released. 
And as far as it is a question of fact respecting the government of the 
Universe, Marcus Antoninus summed the whole in a word, "It is 
pleasant to die, if there be gods; and sad to live, if there be none." 

And so I think that the last lesson of life, the choral song which 
rises from all elements and all angels, is, a voluntary obedience, a 
necessitated freedom. Man is made of the same atoms as the world 
is, he shares the same impressions, predispositions, and destiny. 
When his mind is illuminated, when his heart is kind, he throws 
himself joyfully into the sublime order, and does, with knowledge, 
what the stones do by structure. The religion which is to guide and 
fulfil the present and coming ages, whatever else it be, must be intel- 
lectual. The scientific mind must have a faith which is science. 
"There are two things," said Mahomet, "which I abhor, the learned 
in his infidelities, and the fool in his devotions." Our times are 
impatient of both, and specially of the last. Let us have nothing now 
which is not its own evidence. There is surely enough for the heart 
and imagination in the religion itself. Let us not be pestered with 
assertions and half-truths, with emotions and snuffle. 

There will be a new church founded on moral science, at first cold 
and naked, a babe in a manger again, the algebra and mathematics 
of ethical law, the church of men to come, without shawms or 
psaltery, or sackbut; but it will have heaven and earth for its beams 
and rafters; science for symbol and illustration; it will fast enough 
gather beauty, music, picture, fx)etry. Was never stoicism so stern 
and exigent as this shall be. It shall send man home to his central 
solitude, shame these social, supplicating manners, and make him 
know that much of the time he must have himself to his friend. 
He shall expect no cooperation, he shall walk with no companion. 
The nameless Thought, the nameless Power, the superpersonal 
Heart, — he shall repose alone on that. He needs only his own verdict. 
No good fame can help, no bad fame can hurt him. The Laws 



WORSHIP 295 

are his consolers, the good Laws themselves are alive, they know if 
he have kept them, they animate him with the leading of great duty, 
and an endless horizon. Honor and fortune exist to him who always 
recognizes the neighborhood of the great, always feels himself in the 
presence of high causes. 



BEAUTY 

(i860) 

THE spiral tendency of vegetation infects education also. Our 
books approach very slowly the things we most wish to 
know. What a parade we make of our science, and how far 
off, and at arm's length, it is from its objects! Our botany is all 
names, not powers: |X)ets and romancers talk of herbs of grace 
and healing; but what does the botanist know of the virtues of his 
weeds? The geologist lays bare the strata, and can tell them all on 
his fingers: but does he know what effect passes into the man who 
builds his house in them? What effect on the race that inhabits a 
granite shelf? what on the inhabitants of marl and of alluvium? 

We should go to the ornithologist with a new feeling, if he could 
teach us what the social birds say, when they sit in the autumn coun- 
cil, talking together in the trees. The want of sympathy makes his 
record a dull dictionary. His result is a dead bird. The bird is not 
in its ounces and inches, but in its relations to Nature; and the skin 
or skeleton you show me, is no more a heron, than a heap of ashes 
or a bottle of gases into which his body has been reduced, is Dante 
or Washington. The naturalist is led from the road by the whole 
distance of his fancied advance. The boy had juster views when he 
gazed at the shells on the beach, or the flowers in the meadow, 
unable to call them by their names, than the man in the pride of 
his nomenclature. Astrology interested us, for it tied man to the 
system. Instead of an isolated beggar, the farthest star felt him, and 
he felt the star. However rash and however falsified by pretenders 
and traders in it, the hint was true and divine, the soul's avowal of 
its large relations, and, that climate, century, remote natures, as 
well as near, are part of its biography. Chemistry takes to pieces, 
but it does not construct. Alchemy which sought to transmute one 
element into another, to prolong life, to arm with power, — that was 
in the right direction. All our science lacks a human side. The ten- 

297 



298 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

ant is more than the house. Bugs and stamens and spores, on which 
we lavish so many years, are not finaHties, and man, when his pow- 
ers unfold in order, will take Nature along with him, and emit light 
into all her recesses. The human heart concerns us more than the 
pouring into microscop)es, and is larger than can be measured by 
the pompous figures of the astronomer. 

We are just so frivolous and skeptical. Men hold themselves cheap 
and vile: and yet a man is a fagot of thunderbolts. All the elements 
pour through his system: he is the flood of the flood, and fire of 
the fire; he feels the antipodes and the pole, as drops of his blood: 
they are the extension of his personality. His duties are measured 
by that instrument he is; and a right and perfect man would be felt 
to the centre of the Copernican system. 'Tis curious that we only 
believe as deep as we live. We do not think heroes can exert any 
more awful power than that surface-play which amuses us. A deep 
man believes in miracles, waits for them, believes in magic, believes 
that the orator will decompose his adversary; believes that the evil 
eye can wither, that the heart's blessing can heal; that love can exalt 
talent; can overcome all odds. From a great heart secret magnetisms 
flow incessantly to draw great events. But we prize very humble 
utilities, a prudent husband, a good son, a voter, a citizen, and dep- 
recate any romance of character; and perhaps reckon only his money 
value, — his intellect, his aflection, as a sort of bill of exchange, easily 
convertible into fine chambers, pictures, music and wine. 

The motive of science was the extension of man, on all sides, into 
Nature, till his hands should touch the stars, his eyes see through 
the earth, his ears understand the language of beast and bird, and the 
sense of the wind; and, through his sympathy, heaven and earth 
should talk with him. But that is not our science. These geologies, 
chemistries, astronomies, seem to make wise, but they leave us where 
they found us. The invention is of use to the inventor, of question- 
able help to any other. The formulas of science are like the papers 
in your pocket-book, of no value to any but the owner. Science 
in England, in America, is jealous of theory, hates the name of love 
and moral purpose. There's a revenge for this inhumanity. What 
manner of man does science make? The boy is not attraaed. He 
says, I do not wish to be such a kind of man as my professor is. 



BEAUTY 299 

The colleaor has dried all the plants in his herbal, but he has lost 
weight and humor. He has got all snakes and lizards in his phials, 
but science has done for him also, and has put the man into a bottle. 
Our reliance on the physician is a kind of despair of ourselves. The 
clergy have bronchitis, which does not seem a certificate of spiritual 
health. Macready thought it came of the falsetto of their voicing. 
An Indian prince, Tisso, one day riding in the forest saw a herd of 
elk sporting. "See how happy," he said, "these browsing elks are! 
Why should not priests, lodged and fed comfortably in the temples, 
also amuse themselves?" Returning home, he imparted this reflec- 
tion to the king. The king, on the next day, conferred the sover- 
eignty on him, saying, "Prince, administer this empire for seven 
days: at the termination of that period, I shall put thee to death." 
At the end of the seventh day, the king inquired "From what cause 
hast thou become so emaciated?" He answered, "From the horror 
of death." The monarch rejoined: "Live, my child, and be wise. 
Thou hast ceased to take recreation, saying to thyself, in seven days 
I shall be put to death. These priests in the temple incessantly medi- 
tate on death; how can they enter into healthful diversions?" But 
the men of science or the doctors or the clergy are not victims of 
their pursuits, more than others. The miller, the lawyer, and the 
merchant, dedicate themselves to their own details, and do not 
come out men of more force. Have they divination, grand aims, 
hospitality of soul, and the equality to any event, which we 
demand in man, or only the reactions of the mill, of the wares, of the 
chicane ? 

No object really interests us but man, and in man only his superi- 
orities; and, though we are aware of a perfect law in Nature, it has 
fascination for us only through its relation to him, or, as it is rooted 
in the mind. At the birth of Winckelmann, more than a hundred 
years ago, side by side with this arid, departmental, post mortem 
science, rose an enthusiasm in the study of Beauty; and perhaps 
some sparks from it may yet light a conflagration in the other. 
Knowledge of men, knowledge of manners, the power of form, and 
our sensibility to personal influence, never go out of fashion. These 
are facts of a science which we study without book, whose teachers 
and subjects are always near us. 



300 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

So inveterate is our habit of criticism, that much of our knowledge 
in this direction belongs to the chapter of pathology. The crowd in 
the street oftener furnishes degradations than angels or redeemers: 
but they all prove the transparency. Every spirit makes its house; 
and we can give a shrewd guess from the house to the inhabitant. 
But not less does Nature furnish us with every sign of grace and 
goodness. The delicious faces of children, the beauty of school-girls, 
"the sweet seriousness of sixteen," the lofty air of well-born, well- 
bred boys, the passionate histories in the looks and manners of youth 
and early manhood, and the varied power in all that well-known 
company that escort us through life, — we know how these forms 
thrill, paralyze, provoke, inspire and enlarge us. 

Beauty is the form under which the intellect prefers to study the 
world. All privilege is that of beauty; for there are many beauties; 
as, of general nature, of the human face and form, of manners, of 
brain, or method, moral beauty, or beauty of the soul. 

The ancients believed that a genius or demon took possession at 
birth of each mortal, to guide him; that these genii were sometimes 
seen as a flame of fire partly immersed in the bodies which they 
governed; — on an evil man, resting on his head; in a good man, 
mixed with his substance. They thought the same genius, at the 
death of its ward, entered a new-born child, and they pretended to 
guess the pilot, by the sailing of the ship. We recognize obscurely 
the same fact, though we give it our own names. We say, that 
every man is entitled to be valued by his best moment. We measure 
our friends so. We know, they have intervals of folly, whereof we 
take no heed, but wait the reappearings of the genius, which are 
sure and beautiful. On the other side, everybody knows f)eople who 
apf)ear beridden, and who, with all degrees of ability, never impress 
us with the air of free agency. They know it too, and peep with 
their eyes to see if you detect their sad plight. We fancy, could we 
pronounce the solving word, and disenchant them, the cloud would 
roll up, the little rider would be discovered and unseated, and they 
would regain their freedom. The remedy seems never to be far 
off, since the first step into thought lifts this mountain of necessity. 
Thought is the pent air-ball which can rive the planet, and the 



BEAUTY 301 

beauty which certain objects have for him, is the friendly fire which 
expands the thought, and acquaints the prisoner that Hberty and 
power await him. 

The question of Beauty takes us out of surfaces, to thinking of 
the foundations of things. Goethe said, "The beautiful is a mani- 
festation of secret laws of Nature, which, but for this appearance, 
had been forever concealed from us." And the working of this 
deep instinct makes all the excitement — much of it superficial and 
absurd enough — about works of art, which leads armies of vain 
travellers every year to Italy, Greece and Egypt. Every man values 
every acquisition he makes in the science of beauty, above his pos- 
sessions. The most useful man in the most useful world, so long as 
only commodity was served, would remain unsatisfied. But, as fast 
as he sees beauty, life acquires a very high value. 

I am warned by the ill fate of many philosophers not to attempt 
a definition of Beauty. I will rather enumerate a few of its qualities. 
We ascribe beauty to that which is simple; which has no superfluous 
parts; which exactly answers its end; which stands related to all 
things; which is the mean of many extremes. It is the most enduring 
quahty, and the most ascending quality. We say, love is blind, and 
the figure of Cupid is drawn with a bandage round his eyes. Blind: 
— yes, because he does not see what he does not like; but the sharpest- 
sighted hunter in the universe is Love, for finding what he seeks, 
and only that; and the mythologists tell us, that Vulcan was painted 
lame, and Cupid blind, to call attention to the fact, that one was 
all limbs, and the other, all eyes. In the true mythology, Love is an 
immortal child, and Beauty leads him as a guide: nor can we 
express a deeper sense than when we say. Beauty is the pilot of the 
young soul. 

Beyond their sensuous delight, the forms and colors of Nature 
have a new charm for us in our perception, that not one ornament 
was added for ornament, but is a sign of some better health, or more 
excellent action. Elegance of form in bird or beast, or in the human 
figure, marks some excellence of structure: or beauty is only an in- 
vitation from what belongs to us. 'Tis a law of botany, that in plants, 
the same virtues follow the same forms. It is a rule of largest appli- 



302 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

cation, true in a plant, true in a loaf o£ bread, that in the construction 
of any fabric or organism, any real increase of fitness to its end is 
an increase of beauty. 

The lesson taught by the study of Greek and of Gothic art, of 
antique and of Pre-Raphaelite painting, was worth all the research, 
— namely, that all beauty must be organic; that outside embellish- 
ment is deformity. It is the soundness of the bones that ultimates 
itself in a peach-bloom complexion: health of constitution that makes 
the sparkle and the power of the eye. 'Tis the adjustment of the 
size and of the joining of the sockets of the skeleton, that gives grace 
of outline and the finer grace of movement. The cat and the deer 
cannot move or sit inelegantly. The dancing-master can never teach 
a badly built man to walk well. The tint of the flower proceeds from 
its root, and the lustres of the sea-shell begin with its existence. 
Hence our taste in building rejects paint, and all shifts, and shows 
the original grain of the wood: refuses pilasters and columns that 
support nothing, and allows the real supporters of the house honesdy 
to show themselves. Every necessary or organic action pleases the 
beholder. A man leading a horse to water, a farmer sowing seed, 
the labors of haymakers in the field, the carpenter building a ship, 
the smith at his forge, or, whatever useful labor, is becoming to the 
wise eye. But if it is done to be seen, it is mean. How beautiful are 
ships on the sea! but ships in the theatre, — or ships kept for pictur- 
esque effect on Virginia Water, by George IV., and men hired to 
stand in fitting costumes at a penny an hourl — ^What a difference 
in effect between a battalion of troops marching to action, and one 
of our independent companies on a holiday! In the midst of a mili- 
tary show, and a festal procession gay with banners, I saw a boy 
seize an old tin pan that lay rusting under a wall, and poising it on 
the top of a stick, he set it turning, and made it describe the most 
elegant imaginable curves, and drew away attention from the deco- 
rated procession by this startling beauty. 

Another text from the mythologists. The Greeks fabled that 
Venus was born of the foam of the sea. Nothing interests us which 
is stark or bounded, but only what streams with Ufe, what is in aa 
or endeavor to reach somewhat beyond. The pleasure a palace or 
a temple gives the eye, is, that an order and method has been com- 



BEAUTY 303 

municated to stones, so that they speak and geometrize, become 
tender or sublime with expression. Beauty is the moment of transi- 
tion, as if the form were just ready to flow into other forms. Any 
fixedness, heaping, or concentration on one feature, — a long nose, a 
sharp chin, a hump-back, — is the reverse of the flowing, and there- 
fore deformed. Beautiful as is the symmetry of any form, if the form 
can move, we seek a more excellent symmetry. The interruption of 
equilibrium stimulates the eye to desire the restoration of symmetry, 
and to watch the steps through which it is attained. This is the 
charm of running water, sea-waves, the flight of birds, and the loco- 
motion of animals. This is the theory of dancing, to recover con- 
tinually in changes the lost equilibrium, not by abrupt and angular, 
but by gradual and curving movements. I have been told by persons 
of experience in matters of taste, that the fashions follow a law of 
gradation, and are never arbitrary. The new mode is always only 
a step onward in the same direction as the last mode; and a culti- 
vated eye is prepared for and predicts the new fashion. This fact 
suggests the reason of all mistakes and offence in our own modes. 
It is necessary in music, when you strike a discord, to let down the 
ear by an intermediate note or two to the accord again: and many 
a good experiment, born of good sense, and destined to succeed, 
fails, only because it is offensively sudden. I suppose, the Parisian 
milliner who dresses the world from her imperious boudoir will 
know how to reconcile the Bloomer costume to the eye of mankind, 
and make it triumphant over Punch himself, by interposing the 
just gradations. I need not say, how wide the same law ranges; and 
how much it can be hoped to effect. All that is a little harshly 
claimed by progressive parties, may easily come to be conceded with- 
out question, if this rule be observed. Thus the circumstances may be 
easily imagined, in which woman may speak, vote, argue causes, 
legislate, and drive a coach, and all the most naturally in the world, 
if only it come by degrees. To this streaming or flowing belongs the 
beauty that all circular movement has; as, the circulation of waters, 
the circulation of the blood, the periodical motion of planets, the 
annual wave of vegetation, the action and reaction of Nature: and, 
if we follow it out, this demand in our thought for an ever-onward 
action, is the argument for the immortality. 



304 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

One more text from the mythologists is to the same purpose, — 
Beauty rides on a lion. Beauty rests on necessities. The Hne of beauty 
is the result of perfect economy. The cell of the bee is built at that 
angle which gives the most strength with the least wax; the bone or 
the quill of the bird gives the most alar strength, with the least 
weight. "It is the purgation of superfluities," said Michel Angelo. 
There is not a particle to spare in natural structures. There is a 
compelling reason in the uses of the plant, for every novelty of color 
or form: and our art saves material, by more skilful arrangement, 
and reaches beauty by taking every superfluous ounce that can be 
spared from a wall, and keeping all its strength in the poetry of 
columns. In rhetoric, this art of omission is a chief secret of power, 
and, in general, it is proof of high culture, to say the greatest matters 
in the simplest way. 

Veracity first of all, and forever. Rien de beau que le vrai. In all 
design, art lies in making your object prominent, but there is a prior 
art in choosing objects that are prominent. The fine arts have noth- 
ing casual, but spring from the instincts of the nations that created 
them. 

Beauty is the quality which makes to endure. In a house that I 
know, I have noticed a block of spermaceti lying about closets and 
mantel-pieces, for twenty years together, simply because the tallow- 
man gave it the form of a rabbit; and, I suppose, it may continue 
to be lugged about unchanged for a century. Let an artist scrawl 
a few lines or figures on the back of a letter, and that scrap of paper 
is rescued from danger, is put in portfolio, is framed and glazed, 
and, in proportion to the beauty of the lines drawn, will be kept for 
centuries. Burns writes a copy of verses, and sends them to a news- 
paper, and the human race take charge of them that they shall not 
perish. 

As the flute is heard farther than the cart, see how surely a beauti- 
ful form strikes the fancy of men, and is copied and reproduced 
without end. How many copies are there of the Belvedere Apollo, 
the Venus, the Psyche, the Warwick Vase, the Parthenon, and the 
Temple of Vesta? These are objects of tenderness to all. In our 
cities, an ugly building is soon removed, and is never repeated, but 
any beautiful building is copied and improved upon, so that all 



BEAUTY 305 

masons and carpenters work to repeat and preserve the agreeable 
forms, whilst the ugly ones die out. 

The felicities of design in art, or in works of Nature, are shadows 
or forerunners of that beauty which reaches its perfection in the 
human form. All men are its lovers. Wherever it goes, it creates 
joy and hilarity, and everything is permitted to it. It reaches its 
height in woman. "To Eve," say the Mahometans, "God gave two- 
thirds of all beauty." A beautiful woman is a practical poet, taming 
her savage mate, planting tenderness, hope, and eloquence, in all 
whom she approaches. Some favors of condition must go with it, 
since a certain serenity is essential, but we love its reproofs and 
superiorities. Nature wishes that woman should attract man, yet she 
often cunningly moulds into her face a little sarcasm, which seems 
to say, "Yes, I am willing to attract, but to attract a litde better 
kind of a man than any I yet behold." French memoires of the 
fifteenth century celebrate the name of Pauline de Viguiere, a virtu- 
ous and accompUshed maiden, who so fired the enthusiasm of her 
contemporaries, by her enchanting form, that the citizens of her 
native city of Toulouse obtained the aid of the civil authorities to 
compel her to appear publicly on the balcony at least twice a week, 
and, as often as she showed herself, the crowd was dangerous to 
life. Not less, in England, in the last century, was the fame of the 
Gunnings, of whom, Elizabeth married the Duke of Hamilton; 
and Maria, the Earl of Coventry. Walpole says, "the concourse was 
so great, when the Duchess of Hamilton was presented at court, on 
Friday, that even the noble crowd in the drawing-room clambered 
on chairs and tables to look at her. There are mobs at their doors 
to see them get into their chairs; and people go early to get places 
at the theatres, when it is known they will be there." "Such crowds," 
he adds, elsewhere, "flock to see the Duchess of Hamilton, that seven 
hundred people sat up all night, in and about an inn, in Yorkshire, 
to see her get into her post-chaise next morning." 

But why need we console ourselves with the fames of Helen of 
Argos, or Corinna, or Pauline of Toulouse, or the Duchess of Hamil- 
ton? We all know this magic very well, or can divine it. It does 
not hurt weak eyes to look into beautiful eyes never so long. Women 
stand related to beautiful Nature around us, and the enamored youth 



306 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

mixes their form with moon and stars, with woods and waters, and 
the pomp of summer. They heal us of awkwardness by their words 
and looks. We observe their intellectual influence on the most serious 
student. They refine and clear his mind; teach him to put a pleasing 
method into what is dry and difficult. We talk to them, and wish 
to be listened to; we fear to fatigue them, and acquire a facility of 
expression which passes from conversation into habit of style. 

That Beauty is the normal state, is shown by the perpetual effort 
of Nature to attain it. Mirabeau had an ugly face on a handsome 
ground; and we see faces every day which have a good type, but 
have been marred in the casting: a proof that we are all entitled to 
beauty, should have been beautiful, if our ancestors had kept the 
laws, — as every lily and every rose is well. But our bodies do not 
fit us, but caricature and satirize us. Thus, short legs, which con- 
strain us to short, mincing steps, are a kind of personal insult and 
contumely to the owner; and long stilts, again, put him at per- 
petual disadvantage, and force him to stoop to the general level 
of mankind. Martial ridicules a gentleman of his day whose coun- 
tenance resembled the face of a swimmer seen under water. Saadi 
describes a schoolmaster "so ugly and crabbed, that a sight of him 
would derange the ecstasies of the orthodox." Faces are rarely true 
to any ideal type, but are a record in sculpture of a thousand anec- 
dotes of whim and folly. Portrait painters say that most faces and 
forms are irregular and unsymmetrical; have one eye blue, and one 
gray; the nose not straight; and one shoulder higher than another; 
the hair unequally distributed, etc. The man is physically as well 
as metaphysically a thing of shreds and patches, borrowed unequally 
from good and bad ancestors, and a misfit from the start. 

A beautiful person, among the Greeks, was thought to betray by 
this sign some secret favor of the immortal gods: and we can pardon 
pride, when a woman possesses such a figure, that wherever she 
stands, or moves, or leaves a shadow on the wall, or sits for a por- 
trait to the artist, she confers a favor on the world. And yet — it is 
not beauty that inspires the deepest passion. Beauty without grace 
is the hook without the bait. Beauty, without expression, tires. Abbe 
Menage said of the President Le Bailleul, "that he was fit for noth- 
ing but to sit for his portrait." A Greek epigram intimates that 



BEAUTY 307 

the force of love is not shown by the courting of beauty, but when 
the like desire is inflamed for one who is ill-favored. And petulant 
old gentlemen, who have chanced to suffer some intolerable weari- 
ness from pretty people, or who have seen cut flowers to some pro- 
fusion, or who see, after a world of pains have been successfully 
taken for the costume, how the least mistake in sentiment takes all 
the beauty out of your clothes, — affirm, that the secret of ugliness 
consists not in irregularity, but in being uninteresting. 

We love any forms, however ugly, from which great qualities 
shine. If command, eloquence, art, or invention, exist in the most 
deformed person, all the accidents that usually displease, please and 
raise esteem and wonder higher. The great orator was an emaciated, 
insignificant person, but he was all brain. Cardinal De Retz says 
of De Bouillon, "With the physiognomy of an ox, he had the per- 
spicacity of an eagle." It was said of Hooke, the friend of Newton, 
"he is the most, and promises the least, of any man in England." 
"Since I am so ugly," said Du Guesclin, "it behooves that I be bold." 
Sir Philip Sidney, the darling of mankind, Ben Jonson tells us, 
"was no pleasant man in countenance, his face being spoiled with 
pimples, and of high blood, and long." Those who have ruled 
human destinies, like planets, for thousands of years, were not hand- 
some men. If a man can raise a small city to be a great kingdom, 
can make bread cheap, can irrigate deserts, can join oceans by canals, 
can subdue steam, can organize victory, can lead the opinions of 
mankind, can enlarge knowledge, 'tis no matter whether his nose 
is parallel to his spine, as it ought to be, or whether he has a nose 
at all; whether his legs are straight, or whether his legs are ampu- 
tated; his deformities will come to be reckoned ornamental, and 
advantageous on the whole. This is the triumph of expression, 
degrading beauty, charming us with a power so fine and friendly 
and intoxicating, that it makes admired persons insipid, and the 
thought of passing our lives with them insupportable. There are 
faces so fluid with expression, so flushed and rippled by the play of 
thought, that we can hardly find what the mere features really are. 
When the delicious beauty of lineaments loses its power, it is because 
a more delicious beauty has appeared; that an interior and durable 
form has been disclosed. Still, Beauty rides on her lion, as before. 



308 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

Still, "it was for beauty that the world was made." The lives of the 
Italian artists, who established a despotism of genius amidst the 
dukes and kings and mobs of their stormy ep)och, prove how loyal 
men in all times are to a finer brain, a finer method, than their own. 
If a man can cut such a head on his stone gate-post as shall draw 
and keep a crowd about it all day, by its beauty, good nature, and 
inscrutable meaning; — if a man can build a plain cottage with such 
symmetry, as to make all the fine palaces look cheap and vulgar; 
can take such advantage of Nature, that all her powers serve him; 
making use of geometry, instead of expense; tapping a mountain 
for his water-jet; causing the sun and moon to seem only the deco- 
rations of his estate; this is still the legitimate dominion of beauty. 

The radiance of the human form, though sometimes astonishing, 
is only a burst of beauty for a few years or a few months, at the 
perfection of youth, and in most, rapidly declines. But we remain 
lovers of it, only transferring our interest to interior excellence. And 
it is not only admirable in singular and salient talents, but also in 
the world of manners. 

But the sovereign attribute remains to be noted. Things are pretty, 
graceful, rich, elegant, handsome, but until they speak to the imagi- 
nation, not yet beautiful. This is the reason why beauty is still 
escaping out of all analysis. It is not yet possessed, it cannot be 
handled. Proclus says, "it swims on the light of forms." It is prop- 
erly not in the form, but in the mind. It instantly deserts possession, 
and flies to an object in the horizon. If I could put my hand on the 
north star, would it be as beautiful ? The sea is lovely, but when we 
bathe in it, the beauty forsakes all the near water. For the imagina- 
tion and senses cannot be gratified at the same time. Wordsworth 
rightly speaks of "a light that never was on sea or land," meaning, 
that it was supplied by the observer, and the Welsh bard warns his 
country-women, that 

— "half of their charms with Cadwallon shall die." 

The new virtue which constitutes a thing beautiful, is a certain cos- 
mical quality, or, a power to suggest relation to the whole world, 
and so lift the object out of a pitiful individuality. Every natural 
feature, — sea, sky, rainbow, flowers, musical tone, — ^has in it some- 



BEAUTY 309 

what which is not private, but universal, speaks of that central benefit 
which is the soul of Nature, and thereby is beautiful. And, in chosen 
men and women, I find somewhat in form, speech, and manners, 
which is not of their person and family, but of a humane, catholic, 
and spiritual character, and we love them as the sky. They have a 
largeness of suggestion, and their face and manners carry a certain 
grandeur, like time and justice. 

The feat of the imagination is in showing the convertibility of 
every thing into every other thing. Facts which had never before left 
their stark common sense, suddenly figure as Eleusinian mysteries. 
My boots and chair and candlestick are fairies in disguise, meteors 
and constellations. All the facts in Nature are nouns of the intellect, 
and make the grammar of the eternal language. Every word has a 
double, treble, or centuple use and meaning. What! has my stove 
and pepper-pot a false bottom! I cry you mercy, good shoe-box! I 
did not know you were a jewel-case. Chaff and dust begin to sparkle, 
and are clothed about with immortality. And there is a joy in per- 
ceiving the representative or symbolic character of a fact, which no 
bare fact or event can ever give. There are no days in life so 
memorable as those which vibrated to some stroke of the imagina- 
tion. 

The poets are quite right in decking their mistresses with the 
spoils of the landscape, flower-gardens, gems, rainbows, flushes of 
morning, and stars of night, since all beauty points at identity, and 
whatsoever thing does not express to me the sea and sky, day and 
night, is somewhat forbidden and wrong. Into every beautiful ob- 
ject, there enters somewhat immeasurable and divine, and just as 
much into form bounded by outlines, like mountains on the horizon, 
as into tones of music, or depths of space. Polarized light showed 
the secret architecture of bodies; and when the second-sight of the 
mind is opened, now one color or form or gesture, and now another, 
has a pungency, as if a more interior ray had been emitted, disclosing 
its deep holdings in the frame of things. 

The laws of this translation we do not know, or why one feature 
or gesture enchants, why one word or syllable intoxicates, but the 
fact is familiar that the fine touch of the eye, or a grace of manners, 
or a phrase of poetry, plants wings at our shoulders; as if the Divin- 



310 RALPH WALDO EMERSON 

ity, in his approaches, Ufts away mountains of obstruction, and deigns 
to draw a truer line, which the mind knows and owns. This is that 
haughty force of beauty, "vis superba jormce," which the poets praise, 
— under calm and precise oudine, the immeasurable and divine: 
Beauty hiding all wisdom and power in its calm sky. 

All high beauty has a moral element in it, and I find the antique 
sculpture as ethical as Marcus Antoninus: and the beauty ever in 
proportion to the depth of thought. Gross and obscure natures, how- 
ever decorated, seem impure shambles; but character gives splendor 
to youth, and awe to wrinkled skin and gray hairs. An adorer of 
truth we cannot choose but obey, and the woman who has shared 
with us the moral sentiment, — her locks must appear to us sublime. 
Thus there is a climbing scale of culture, from the first agreeable 
sensation which a sparkling gem or a scarlet stain affords the eye, 
up through fair outlines and details of the landscape, features of the 
human face and form, signs and tokens of thought and character 
in manners, up to the ineffable mysteries of the intellect. Wherever 
we begin, thither our steps tend: an ascent from the joy of a horse 
in his trappings, up to the perception of Newton, that the globe on 
which we ride is only a larger apple falling from a larger tree; up to 
the perception of Plato, that globe and universe are rude and early 
expressions of an all-dissolving Unity, — the first stair on the scale to 
the temple of the Mind. 



ENGLISH TRAITS 



CONTENTS 

First Visit to England 3^5 

Voyage to England 3^" 

Land 33^ 

Race 33^ 

Ability 35* 

Manners 3"" 

Truth 373 

Character 379 

Cockayne 3°7 

Wealth 39* 

Aristocracy 4°* 

Universities 4'5 

Reugion 4*3 

Literature 43* 

The "Times" 447 

Stonehengb 453 

Personal 4"* 

Result 4^^ 

Speech at Manchester 47^ 



ENGLISH TRAITS 

(1856) 

CHAPTER I 

FIKST VISIT TO ENGLAND 

I HAVE been twice in England. In 1833, on my return from a 
short tour in Sicily, Italy, and France, I crossed from Boulogne, 
and landed in London at the Tower stairs. It was a dark Sun- 
day morning; there were few people in the streets; and I remember 
the pleasure of that first walk on English ground, with my com- 
panion, an American artist, from the Tower up through Cheapside 
and the Strand, to a house in Russell Square, whither we had been 
recommended to good chambers. For the first time for many 
months we were forced to check the saucy habit of travellers' criti- 
cism, as we could no longer speak aloud in the streets without being 
understood. The shop-signs spoke our language; our country names 
were on the door-plates; and the public and private buildings wore 
a more native and wonted front. 

Like most young men at that time, I was much indebted to the 
men of Edinburgh, and of the Edinburgh Review, — to Jeffrey, 
Mackintosh, Hallam, and to Scott, Playfair, and De Quincey; and 
my narrow and desultory reading had inspired the wish to see the 
faces of three or four writers, — Coleridge, Wordsworth, Landor, De 
Quincey, and the latest and strongest contributor to the critical jour- 
nals, Carlyle; and I suppose if I had sifted the reasons that led me to 
Europe, when I was ill and was advised to travel, it was mainly the 
attraction of these persons. If Goethe had been still living, I might 
have wandered into Germany also. Besides those I have named (for 
Scott was dead), there was not in Britain the man living whom I 
cared to behold, unless it were the Duke of Wellington, whom I 
afterwards saw at Westminster Abbey, at the funeral of Wilberforce. 

3>5 



3l6 ENGLISH TRAITS 

The young scholar fancies it happiness enough to live with people 
who can give an inside to the world; without reflecting that they are 
prisoners, too, of their own thought, and cannot apply themselves to 
yours. The conditions of literary success are almost destructive of 
the best social power, as they do not leave that frolic liberty which 
only can encounter a companion on the best terms. It is probable 
you left some obscure comrade at a tavern, or in the farms, with 
right mother-wit, and equality to life, when you crossed sea and land 
to play bo-peep with celebrated scribes. I have, however, found 
writers superior to their books, and I cling to my first belief, that 
a strong head will dispose fast enough of these impediments, and 
give one the satisfaction of reality, the sense of having been met, 
and a larger horizon. 

On looking over the diary of my journey in 1833 I find nothing 
to publish in my memoranda of visits to places. But I have copied a 
few notes I made of visits to persons, as they respect parties quite 
too good and too transparent to the whole world to make it needful 
to affect any prudery of suppression about a few hints of those 
bright personahties. 

At Florence, chief among artists I found Horatio Greenough, the 
American sculptor. His face was so handsome, and his person so 
well formed, that he might be pardoned, if, as was alleged, the face 
of his Medora, and the figure of a colossal Achilles in clay, were 
idealizations of his own. Greenough was a superior man, ardent 
and eloquent, and all his opinions had elevation and magnanimity. 
He believed that the Greeks had wrought in schools or fraternities, 
— the genius of the master imparting his design to his friends, and 
inflaming them with it, and when his strength was spent, a new 
hand, with equal heat, continued the work; and so by relays, until 
it was finished in every part with equal fire. This was necessary in 
so refractory a material as stone; and he thought art would never 
prosper until we left our shy jealous ways, and worked in society as 
they. All his thoughts breathed the same generosity. He was an 
accurate and a deep man. He was a votary of the Greeks, and im- 
patient of Gothic art. His paper on Architecture, published in 1843, 
announced in advance the leading thoughts of Mr. Ruskin on the 
morality in architecture, notwithstanding the antagonism in their 



FIRST VISIT TO ENGLAND 317 

views of the history of art. I have a private letter from him, — later, 
but respecting the same period, — in which he roughly sketches his 
own theory. "Here is my theory of structure: A scientific arrange- 
ment of spaces and forms to functions and to site; an emphasis of 
features proportioned to their gradated importance in function; 
color and ornament to be decided and arranged and varied by 
strictly organic laws, having a distinct reason for each decision; the 
entire and immediate banishment of all make-shift and make- 
believe." 

Greenough brought me, through a common friend, an invitation 
from Mr. Landor, who lived at San Domenica di Fiesole. On the 
15th May I dined with Mr. Landor. I found him noble and courte- 
ous, living in a cloud of pictures at his Villa Gherardesca, a fine 
house commanding a beautiful landscape. I had inferred from his 
books, or magnified from some anecdotes, an impression of Achillean 
wrath, — an untamable petulance. I do not know whether the impu- 
tation were just or not, but certainly on this May day his courtesy 
veiled that haughty mind, and he was the most patient and gentle 
of hosts. He praised the beautiful cyclamen which grows all about 
Florence; he admired Washington; talked of Wordsworth, Byron, 
Massinger, Beaumont and Fletcher. To be sure, he is decided in his 
opinions, likes to surprise, and is well content to impress, if possible, 
his English whim upon the immutable past. No great man ever 
had a great son, if Philip and Alexander be not an exception; and 
PhiHp he calls the greater man. In art he loves the Greeks, and in 
sculpture, them only. He prefers the Venus to everything else, and, 
after that, the head of Alexander in the gallery here. He prefers 
John of Bologna to Michael Angelo; in painting, Raflaelle; and 
shares the growing taste for Perugino and the early masters. The 
Greek histories he thought the only good; and after them, Voltaire's. 
I could not make him praise Mackintosh, nor my more recent 
friends; Montaigne very cordially, — and Charron also, which seemed 
undiscriminating. He thought Degerando indebted to "Lucas on 
Happiness" and "Lucas on Holiness"! He pestered me with 
Southey; but who is Southey? 

He invited me to breakfast on Friday. On Friday I did not fail 
to go, and this time with Greenough. He entertained us at once 



3l8 ENGLISH TRAITS 

with reciting half a dozen hexameter Hnes of Julius Caesar's! — ^from 
Donatus, he said. He glorified Lord Chesterfield more than was 
necessary, and undervalued Burke, and undervalued Socrates; desig- 
nated as three of the greatest of men, Washington, Phocion, and 
Timoleon; much as our pomologists, in their lists, select the three or 
the six best jjears "for a small orchard"; and did not even omit to 
remark the similar termination of their names. "A great man," he 
said, "should make great sacrifices, and kill his hundred oxen with- 
out knowing whether they would be consumed by gods and heroes, 
or whether the flies would eat them." I had visited Professor Amici, 
who had shown me his microscopes, magnifying (it was said) two 
thousand diameters; and I spoke of the uses to which they were 
applied. Landor despised entomology, yet, in the same breath, said, 
"the sublime was in a grain of dust." I suppose I teased him about 
recent writers, but he professed never to have heard of Herschel, not 
even by name. One room full of pictures, which he likes to show, 
especially one piece, standing before which, he said "he would give 
fifty guineas to the man that would swear it was a Domenichino." 

I was more curious to see his library, but Mr. H , one of the 

guests, told me that Mr. Landor gives away his books, and has never 
more than a dozen at a time in his house. 

Mr. Landor carries to its height the love of freak which the Eng- 
lish delight to indulge, as if to signalize their commanding freedom. 
He has a wonderful brain, despotic, violent, and inexhaustible, meant 
for a soldier, by what chance converted to letters, in which there is 
not a style nor a tint not known to him, yet with an English appetite 
for action and heroes. The thing done avails, and not what is said 
about it. An original sentence, a step forward, is worth more than 
all the censures. Landor is strangely undervalued in England; usu- 
ally ignored; and sometimes savagely attacked in the Reviews. The 
criticism may be right, or wrong, and is quickly forgotten; but year 
after year the scholar must still go back to Landor for a multitude 
of elegant sentences — ^for wisdom, wit, and indignation that are 
unforgetable. 

From London, on the 5th August, I went to Highgate, and 
wrote a note to Mr. Coleridge, requesting leave to pay my respects 



FIRST VISIT TO ENGLAND 3I9 

to him. It was near noon. Mr. Coleridge sent a verbal message, that 
he was in bed, but if I would call after one o'clock, he would see me. 
I returned at one, and he appeared, a short, thick old man, with 
bright blue eyes and fine clear complexion, leaning on his cane. He 
took snuff freely, which presently soiled his cravat and neat black 
suit. He asked whether I knew Allston, and spoke warmly of his 
merits and doings when he knew him in Rome; what a master of 
the Titianesque he was, &c., &c. He spoke of Dr. Channing. It 
was an unspeakable misfortune that he should have turned out a 
Unitarian after all. On this, he burst into a declamation on the folly 
and ignorance of Unitarianism, — its high unreasonableness; and 
taking up Bishop Waterland's book, which lay on the table, he read 
with vehemence two or three pages written by himself in the fly- 
leaves, — passages, too, which, I believe, are printed in the "Aids to 
Reflection." When he stopped to take breath, I interposed that, 
"whilst I highly valued all his explanations, I was bound to tell him 
that I was born and bred a Unitarian," "Yes," he said, "I supposed 
so;" and continued as before. "It was a wonder that after so many 
ages of unquestioning acquiescence in the doctrine of St. Paul, — the 
doctrine of the Trinity, which was also, according to Philo Judacus, 
the doctrine of the Jews before Christ, — this handful of Priestleians 
should take on themselves to deny it, &c., &c. He was very sorry 
that Dr. Channing, — a man to whom he looked up, — no, to say that 
he looked up to him would be to speak falsely; but a man whom he 
looked at with so much interest, — should embrace such views. When 
he saw Dr. Channing, he had hinted to him that he was afraid he 
loved Christianity for what was lovely and excellent, — he loved the 
good in it, and not the true; and I tell you, sir, that I have known 
ten persons who loved the good, for one person who loved the true; 
but it is a far greater virtue to love the true for itself alone, than to 
love the good for itself alone. He (Coleridge) knew all about Uni- 
tarianism perfectly well, because he had once been a Unitarian, and 
knew what quackery it was. He had been called 'the rising star of 
Unitarianism.'" He went on defining, or rather refining: "The 
Trinitarian doctrine was realism; the idea of God was not essential, 
but sup)er-essential;" talked of trinism tetrakjsm, and much more, 
of which I only caught this, "that the will was that by which a 



320 ENGLISH TRAITS 

person is a person; because, if one should push me in the street, and 
so I should force the man next me into the kennel, I should at once 
exclaim, 'I did not do it, sir,' meaning it was not my will." And this 
also, "that if you should insist on your faith here in England, and I 
on mine, mine would be the hotter side of the fagot." 

I took advantage of a pause to say that he had many readers of all 
religious opinions in America, and I proceeded to inquire if the 
"extract" from the Independent's pamphlet, in the third volume of 
the Friend, were a veritable quotation. He replied that it was really 
taken from a pamphlet in his possession, entitled "A Protest of 
one of the Independents," or something to that effect. I told him 
how excellent I thought it, and how much I wished to see the entire 
work. "Yes," he said, "the man was a chaos of truths, but lacked 
the knowledge that God was a God of order. Yet the passage would 
no doubt strike you more in the quotation than in the original, for 
I have filtered it." 

When I rose to go, he said, "I do not know whether you care 
about poetry, but I will repeat some verses I lately made on my 
baptismal anniversary," and he recited with strong emphasis, stand- 
ing, ten or twelve lines, beginning, 

"Born unto God in Christ—" 

He inquired where I had been travelling; and on learning that I 
had been in Malta and Sicily, he compared one island with the 
other, "repeating what he had said to the Bishop of London when he 
returned from that country, that Sicily was an excellent school of 
political economy; for, in any town there, it only needed to ask 
what the government enacted, and reverse that to know what ought 
to be done; it was the most felicitously opposite legislation to any- 
thing good and wise. There were only three things which the 
government had brought into that garden of delights, namely, itch, 
pox, and famine. Whereas, in Malta, the force of law and mind was 
seen, in making that barren rock of semi-Saracen inhabitants the 
seat of population and plenty." Going out, he showed me in the next 
apartment a picture of AUston's and told me "that Montague, a pic- 
ture-dealer, once came to see him, and, glancing towards this, said, 
'Well, you have got a picture!' thinking it the work of an old master; 



FIRST VISIT TO ENGLAND 32 1 

afterwards, Montague, still talking with his back to the canvas, put 
up his hand and touched it, and exclaimed, 'By Heaven! this picture 
is not ten years old :' — so delicate and skilful was that man's touch." 

I was in his company for about an hour, but find it impossible to 
recall the largest part of his discourse, which was often like so many 
printed paragraphs in his book, — perhaps the same, — so readily did 
he fall into certain commonplaces. As I might have foreseen, the 
visit was rather a spectacle than a conversation, of no use beyond 
the satisfaction of my curiosity. He was old and preoccupied, and 
could not bend to a new companion and think with him. 

From Edinburgh I went to the Highlands. On my return, I came 
from Glasgow to Dumfries, and being intent on delivering a letter 
which I had brought from Rome, inquired for Craigenputtock. It 
was a farm in Nithsdale, in the parish of Dunscore, sixteen miles 
distant. No public coach passed near it, so I took a private carriage 
from the inn. I found the house amid desolate heathery hills, where 
the lonely scholar nourished his mighty heart. Carlyle was a man 
from his youth, an author who did not need to hide from his readers, 
and as absolute a man of the world, unknown and exiled on that 
hill-farm, as if holding on his own terms what is best in London. 
He was tall and gaunt, with a cliff-like brow, self-possessed and hold- 
ing his extraordinary powers of conversation in easy command; 
clinging to his northern accent with evident relish; full of lively 
anecdote, and with a streaming humor, which floated everything he 
looked upon. His talk playfully exalting the familiar objects put the 
companion at once into an acquaintance with his Lars and Lemurs, 
and it was very pleasant to learn what was predestined to be a pretty 
mythology. Few were the objects and lonely the man, "not a person 
to speak to within sixteen miles except the minister of Dunscore"; 
so that books inevitably made his topics. 

He had names of his own for all the matters familiar to his dis- 
course. "Blackwood's" was the "sand magazine;" "Fraser's" nearer 
approach to possibility of life was the "mud magazine"; a piece of 
road near by that marked some failed enterprise was the "grave of 
the last sixpence." When too much praise of any genius annoyed 
him, he professed hugely to admire the talent shown by his pig. He 



322 ENGLISH TRAITS 

had spent much time and contrivance in confining the poor beast to 
one enclosure in his pen, but pig, by great strokes of judgment, had 
found out how to let a board down and had foiled him. For all that, 
he still thought man the most plastic little fellow in the planet, and 
he hked Nero's death "Qualis artifex pereo!" better than most his- 
tory. He worships a man that will manifest any truth to him. At 
one time he had inquired and read a good deal about America. 
Landor's principle was mere rebellion, and that he feared was the 
American principle. The best thing he knew of that country was 
that in it a man can have meat for his labor. He had read in Stew- 
art's book that when he inquired in a New York hotel for the Boots, 
he had been shown across the street and had found Mungo in his 
own house dining on roast turkey. 

We talked of books. Plato he does not read, and he disparaged 
Socrates; and, when pressed, persisted in making Mirabeau a hero. 
Gibbon he called the splendid bridge from the old world to the new. 
His own reading had been multifarious. Tristram Shandy was one 
of his first books after Robinson Crusoe, and Robertson's America 
an early favorite. Rousseau's Confessions had discovered to him that 
he was not a dunce; and it was now ten years since he had learned 
German, by the advice of a man who told him he would find in 
that language what he wanted. 

He took despairing or satirical views of literature at this moment; 
recounted the incredible sums paid in one year by the great book- 
sellers for puffing. Hence it comes that no newspaper is trusted 
now, no books are bought, and the booksellers are on the eve of 
bankruptcy. 

He still returned to English pauperism, the crowded country, the 
selfish abdication by public men of all that public persons should 
perform. "Government should direct poor men what to do. Poor 
Irish folk come wandering over these moors. My dame makes it a 
rule to give to every son of Adam bread to eat, and supplies his 
wants to the next house. But here are thousands of acres which 
might give them all meat, and nobody to bid these poor Irish go to 
the moor and till it. They burned the stacks, and so found a way 
to force the rich people to attend to them." 

We went out to walk over long hills, and looked at Criffel, then 



FIRST VISIT TO ENGLAND 323 

without his cap, and down into Wordsworth's country. There we 
sat down, and talked of the immortahty of the soul. It was not 
Carlyle's fault that we talked on that topic, for he had the natural 
disinclination of every nimble spirit to bruise itself against walls, 
and did not like to place himself where no step can be taken. But 
he was honest and true, and cognizant of the subtile links that bind 
ages together, and saw how every event affects all the future. "Christ 
died on the tree: that built Dunscore kirk yonder: that brought you 
and me together. Time has only a relative existence." 

He was already turning his eyes towards London with a scholar's 
appreciation. London is the heart of the world, he said, wonderful 
only from the mass of human beings. He liked the huge machine. 
Each keeps its own round. The baker's boy brings muffins to the 
window at a fixed hour every day, and that is all the Londoner 
knows or wishes to know on the subject. But it turned out good 
men. He named certain individuals, especially one man of letters, 
his friend, the best mind he knew, whom London had well served. 

On the 28th August, I went to Rydal Mount, to pay my respects 
to Mr. Wordsworth. His daughters called in their father, a plain, 
elderly, white-haired man, not prepossessing, and disfigured by green 
goggles. He sat down and talked with great simplicity. He had 
just returned from a journey. His health was good, but he had 
broken a tooth by a fall, when walking with two lawyers, and had 
said that he was glad it did not happen forty years ago; whereupon 
they had praised his philosophy. 

He had much to say of America, the more that it gave occasion 
for his favorite topic, — that society is being enlightened by a super- 
ficial tuition, out of all proportion to its being restrained by moral 
culture. Schools do no good. Tuition is not education. He thinks 
more of the education of circumstances than of tuition. 'Tis not 
question whether there are offences of which the law takes cogniz- 
ance, but whether there are offences of which the law does not take 
cognizance. Sin is what he fears, and how society is to escape with- 
out gravest mischiefs from this source — ? He has even said, what 
seemed a paradox, that they needed a civil war in America, to teach 
the necessity of knitting the social ties stronger. "There may be," 



324 ENGLISH TRAITS 

he said, "in America some vulgarity in manner, but that's not im- 
portant. That comes of the pioneer state of things. But I fear they 
are too much given to the making of money; and secondly to poli- 
tics; that they make political distinction the end, and not the means. 
And I fear they lack a class of men of leisure, — ^in short, of gentle- 
men, — to give a tone of honor to the community. I am told that 
things are boasted of in the second class of society there, which, in 
England, — God knows, are done in England every day, — but would 
never be spoken of. In America I wish to know not how many 
churches or schools, but what newspapers? My friend. Colonel 
Hamilton, at the foot of the hill, who was a year in America, assures 
me that the newspapers are atrocious, and accuse members of Con- 
gress of stealing spoons!" He was against taking of? the tax on news- 
papers in England which the reformers represent as a tax upon 
knowledge, for this reason, that they would be inundated with base 
prints. He said, he talked on political aspects, for he wished to 
impress on me and all good Americans to cultivate the moral, the 
conservative, &c., &c., and never to call into action the physical 
strength of the people, as had just now been done in England in the 
Reform Bill, — a thing prophesied by Delolme. He alluded once or 
twice to his conversation with Dr. Channing, who had recently vis- 
ited him (laying his hand on a particular chair in which the Doctor 
had sat). 

The conversation turned on books. Lucretius he esteems a far 
higher poet than Virgil: not in his system, which is nothing, but in 
his power of illustration. Faith is necessary to explain anything, and 
to reconcile the foreknowledge of God with human evil. Of Cousin 
(whose lectures we had all been reading in Boston), he knew only 
the name. 

I inquired if he had read Carlyle's critical articles and translations. 
He said he thought him sometimes insane. He proceeded to abuse 
Goethe's Wilhelm Meister heartily. It was full of all manner of 
fornication. It was like the crossing of flies in the air. He had never 
gone farther than the first part; so disgusted was he that he threw 
the book across the room. I deprecated this wrath, and said what I 
could for the better parts of the book; and he courteously prom- 
ised to look at it again. Carlyle, he said, wrote most obscurely. He 



FIRST VISIT TO ENGLAND 325 

was clever and deep, but he defied the sympathies of everybody. 
Even Mr. Coleridge wrote more clearly, though he had always 
wished Coleridge would write more to be understood. He led me 
out into his garden, and showed me the gravel walk in which thou- 
sands of his lines were composed. His eyes are much inflamed. This 
is no loss, except for reading, because he never writes prose, and 
of poetry he carries even hundreds of lines in his head before writ- 
ing them. He had just returned from a visit to Staffa, and within 
three days had made three sonnets on Fingal's Cave, and was com- 
posing a fourth when he was called in to see me. He said, "If you 
are interested in my verses, perhaps you will like to hear these lines." 
I gladly assented; and he recollected himself for a few moments, and 
then stood forth and repeated, one after the other, the three entire 
sonnets with great animation. I fancied the second and third more 
beautiful than his poems are wont to be. The third is addressed 
to the flowers, which, he said, especially the ox-eye daisy, are very 
abundant on the top of the rock. The second alludes to the name 
of the cave, which is "Cave of Music"; the first to the circumstance 
of its being visited by the promiscuous company of the steamboat. 

This recitation was so unlooked for and surprising, — he, the old 
Wordsworth, standing apart, and reciting to me in a garden-walk, 
like a schoolboy declaiming, — that I at first was near to laugh; but 
recollecting myself, that I had come thus far to see a poet, and he 
was chanting poems to me, I saw that he was right and I was wrong, 
and gladly gave myself up to hear. 1 told him how much the few 
printed extracts had quickened the desire to possess his unpublished 
poems. He replied, he never was in haste to publish; partly because 
he corrected a good deal, and every alteration is ungraciously re- 
ceived after printing; but what he had written would be printed, 
whether he lived or died. I said "Tintern Abbey" appeared to be 
the favorite poem with the public, but more contemplative readers 
preferred the first books of the "Excursion," and the Sonnets. He 
said, "Yes, they are better." He preferred such of his poems as 
touched the affections to any others; for whatever is didactic — what 
theories of society, and so on — might perish quickly; but whatever 
combined a truth with an affection was Kr-qua ts ati, good to-day 
and good forever. He cited the sonnet, "On the feelings of a 



326 ENGLISH TRAITS 

high-minded Spaniard" which he preferred to any other (I so under- 
stood him), and the "Two Voices"; and quoted with evident pleas- 
ure, the verses addressed "To the Skylark." In this connection he 
said of the Newtonian theory that it might yet be superseded and 
forgotten; and Dalton's atomic theory. 

When I prepared to depart, he said he wished to show me what a 
common person in England could do, and he led me into the en- 
closure of his clerk, a young man, to whom he had given this slip 
of ground, which was laid out, or its natural capabilities shown, 
with much taste. He then said he would show me a better way 
towards the inn; and he walked a good part of a mile, talking, and 
ever and anon stopping short to impress the word or the verse, and 
finally parted from me with great kindness, and returned across the 
fields. 

Wordsworth honored himself by his simple adherence to truth, 
and was very willing not to shine; but he surprised by the hard 
limits of his thought. To judge from a single conversation, he made 
the impression of a narrow and very English mind; of one who 
paid for his rare elevation by general tameness and conformity. Off 
his own beat, his opinions were of no value. It is not very rare 
to find persons loving sympathy and ease, who expiate their de- 
parture from the common in one direction by their conformity in 
every other. 

CHAPTER II 

VOYAGE TO ENGLAND 

The occasion of my second visit to England was an invitation from 
some Mechanics' Institutes in Lancashire and Yorkshire, which sepa- 
rately are organized much in the same way as our New England 
Lyceums, but, in 1847, had been linked into a "Union," which 
embraced twenty or thirty towns and cities, and presently extended 
into the middle counties, and northward into Scotland. I was 
invited, on liberal terms, to read a series of lectures in them all. The 
request was urged with every kind suggestion, and every assurance 
of aid and comfort, by friendliest parties in Manchester, who, in the 



VOYAGE TO ENGLAND 327 

sequel, amply redeemed their word. The remuneration was equiva- 
lent to the fees at that time paid in this country for the Uke services. 
At all events, it was sufficient to cover any travelling expenses, and 
the proposal offered an excellent opportunity of seeing the interior 
of England and Scotland, by means of a home, and a committee of 
intelligent friends, awaiting me in every town. I did not go very 
willingly. I am not a good traveller, nor have I found that long 
journeys yield a fair share of reasonable hours. But the invitation 
was repeated and pressed at a moment of more leisure, and when I 
was a little spent by some unusual studies. I wanted a change and 
a tonic, and England was proposed to me. Besides, there were at 
least, the dread attraction and salutary influences of the sea. So 
I took my berth in the packet-ship Washington Irving, and sailed 
from Boston on Tuesday, 5th October, 1847. 

On Friday, at noon, we had only made one hundred and thirty- 
four miles. A nimble Indian would have swum as far; but the 
captain affirmed that the ship would show us in time all her paces, 
and we crept along through the floating drift of boards, logs, and 
chips, which the rivers of Maine and New Brunswick pour into 
the sea after a freshet. 

At last, on Sunday night, after doing one day's work in four, the 
storm came, the winds blew, and we flew before a north-wester, 
which strained every rope and sail. The good ship darts through the 
water all day, all night, like a fish, quivering with speed, gliding 
through hquid leagues, sliding from horizon to horizon. She has 
passed Cape Sable; she has reached the Banks; the land-birds are 
left; gulls, haglets, ducks, petrels, swim, dive, and hover around; 
no fishermen; she has passed the Banks; left five sail behind her, 
far on the edge of the west at sundown, which were far east of us at 
morn, — though they say at sea a stern chase is a long race, — and still 
we fly for our lives. The shortest sea-line from Boston to Liverpool 
is 2850 miles. This a steamer keeps, and saves 150 miles. A saihng 
ship can never go in a shorter line than 3000, and usually it is much 
longer. Our good master keeps his kites up to the last moment, 
studding-sails alow and aloft, and, by incessant straight steering, 
never loses a rod of way. Watchfulness is the law of the ship, — 
watch on watch, for advantage and for life. Since the ship was built, 



328 ENGLISH TRAITS 

it seems, the master never slept but in his day-clothes whilst on 
board. "There are many advantages," says Saadi, "in sea-voyaging, 
but security is not one of them." Yet in hurrying over these abysses, 
whatever dangers we are running into, we are certainly running out 
of the risks of hundreds of miles every day, which have their own 
chances of squall, collision, sea-stroke, piracy, cold, and thunder. 
Hour for hour, the risk on a steamboat is greater; but the speed is 
safety, or, twelve days of danger, instead of twenty-four. Our ship 
was registered 750 tons, and weighed jjerhaps, with all her freight, 
1500 tons. The mainmast, from the deck to the top-button, measured 
115 feet; the length of the deck, from stem to stern, 155. It is 
impossible not to f)ersonify a ship; everybody does, in everything 
they say: — she behaves well; she minds her rudder; she swims like a 
duck; she runs her nose into the water; she looks into a port. Then 
that wonderful esprit de corps, by which we adopt into our self-love 
everything we touch, makes us all champions of her sailing qualities. 

The conscious ship hears all the praise. In one week she has made 
1467 miles, and now, at night, seems to hear the steamer behind her, 
which left Boston to-day at two, has mended her speed, and is flying 
before the gray south wind eleven and a half knots the hour. The 
sea-fire shines in her wake, and far around wherever a wave breaks. 
I read the hour, gh. 45', on my watch by this light. Near the equator, 
you can read small print by it; and the mate describes the phosphoric 
insects, when taken up in a pail, as shap)ed like a Carolina potato. 

I find the sea-life an acquired taste, like that for tomatoes and 
olives. The confinement, cold, motion, noise, and odor are not to be 
dispensed with. The floor of your room is sloped at an angle of 
twenty or thirty degrees, and I waked every morning with the belief 
that some one was tipping up my berth. Nobody likes to be treated 
ignominiously, upset, shoved against the side of the house, rolled 
over, suffocated with bilge, mephitis, and stewing oil. We get used 
to these annoyances at last, but the dread of the sea remains longer. 
The sea is masculine, the type of active strength. Look, what egg- 
shells are drifting all over it, each one, like ours, filled with men in 
ecstasies of terror, alternating with cockney conceit, as the sea is 
rough or smooth. Is this sad-colored circle an eternal cemetery? In 
our graveyards we scoop a pit, but this aggressive water opens mile- 



VOYAGE TO ENGLAND 329 

wide pits and chasms, and makes a mouthful of a fleet. To the 
geologist, the sea is the only firmament; the land is in perpetual flux 
and change, now blown up like a tumor, now sunk in a chasm, 
and the registered observations of a few hundred years find it in a 
perpetual tilt, rising and falling. The sea keeps its old level; and 
'tis no wonder that the history of our race is so recent, if the roar 
of the ocean is silencing our traditions. A rising of the sea, such as 
has been observed, say an inch in a century, from east to west on the 
land, will bury all the towns, monuments, bones, and knowledge 
of mankind, steadily and insensibly. If it is capable of these great 
and secular mischiefs, it is quite as ready at private and local damage; 
and of this no landsman seems so fearful as the seaman. Such dis- 
comfort and such danger as the narratives of the captain and mate 
disclose are bad enough as the costly fee we pay for entrance to 
Europe; but the wonder is always new that any sane man can be 
a sailor. And here, on the second day of our voyage, stepped out a 
little boy in his shirt-sleeves, who had hid himself, whilst the ship 
was in port, in the bread<loset, having no money, and wishing to 
go to England. The sailors have dressed him in Guernsey frock, 
with a knife in his belt, and he is climbing nimbly about after them, 
"Ukes the work first-rate, and, if the captain will take him, means 
now to come back again in the ship." The mate avers that this is 
the history of all sailors; nine out of ten are runaway boys; and adds 
that all of them are sick of the sea, but stay in it out of pride. Jack 
has a life of risks, incessant abuse, and the worst pay. It is a litde 
better with the mate, and not very much better with the captain. 
A hundred dollars a month is reckoned high pay. If sailors were 
contented, if they had not resolved again and again not to go to 
sea any more, I should respect them. 

Of course, the inconveniences and terrors of the sea are not of any 
account to those whose minds are preoccupied. The water-laws, 
arctic frost, the mountain, the mine, only shatter cockneyism; every 
noble activity makes room for itself. A great mind is a good sailor, 
as a great heart is. And the sea is not slow in disclosing inestimable 
secrets to a good naturalist. 

Tis a good rule in every journey to provide some piece of liberal 
study to rescue the hours which bad weather, bad company, and 



330 ENGLISH TRAITS 

taverns steal from the best economist. Classics which at home are 
drowsily read have a strange charm in a country inn, or in the 
transom of a merchant brig. I remember that some of the happiest 
and most valuable hours I have owed to books, passed many years 
ago, on shipboard. The worst impediment I have found at sea is the 
want of light in the cabin. 

We found on board the usual cabin library: Basil Hall, Dumas, 
Dickens, Bulwer, Balzac, and Sand were our sea-gods. Among the 
passengers, there was some variety of talent and profession; we 
exchanged our experiences, and all learned something. The busiest 
talk with leisure and convenience at sea, and sometimes a memorable 
faa turns up, which you have long had a vacant niche for, and seize 
with the joy of a collector. But, under the best conditions, a voyage 
is one of the severest tests to try a man. A college examination is 
nothing to it. Sea-days are long, — these lack-lustre, joyless days 
which whistled over us; but they were few, — only fifteen, as the 
captain counted, sixteen according to me. Reckoned from the time 
when we left soundings, our speed was such that the captain drew 
the line of his course in red ink on his chart, for the encouragement 
or envy of future navigators. 

It has been said that the King of England would consult his 
dignity by giving audience to foreign ambassadors in the cabin of a 
man-of-war. And I think the white path of an Adantic ship the 
right avenue to the palace front of this seafaring people, who for 
hundreds of years claimed the strict sovereignty of the sea, and 
exacted toll and the striking sail from the ships of all other peoples. 
When their privilege was disputed by the Dutch and other junior 
marines, on the plea that you could never anchor on the same wave, 
or hold property in what was always flowing, the English did not 
stick to claim the channel, or bottom of all the main. "As if," said 
they, "we contended for the drops of the sea, and not for its situation, 
or the bed of those waters. The sea is bounded by his majesty's 
empire." 

As we neared the land, its genius was felt. This was inevitably the 
British side. In every man's thought arises now a new system, Eng- 
lish sentiments, English loves and fears, English history and social 
modes. Yesterday, every passenger had measured the speed of the 



LAND 331 

ship by watching the bubbles over the ship's bulwarks. To-day, 
instead of bubbles, we measure by Kinsale, Cork, Waterford, and 
Ardmore. There lay the green shore of Ireland, like some coast of 
plenty. We could see towns, towers, churches, harvests; but the 
curse of eight hundred years we could not discern. 

CHAPTER III 

LAND 

Alfieri thought Italy and England the only countries worth living 
in; the former, because there nature vindicates her rights, and 
triumphs over the evils inflicted by the governments; the latter, 
because art conquers nature, and transforms a rude, ungenial land 
into a paradise of comfort and plenty. England is a garden. Under 
an ash-colored sky, the fields have been combed and rolled till they 
appear to have been finished with a pencil instead of a plough. The 
solidity of the structures that compose the towns speaks the industry 
of ages. Nothing is left as it was made. Rivers, hills, valleys, the sea 
itself feel the hand of a master. The long habitation of a powerful 
and ingenious race has turned every rood of land to its best use, has 
found all the capabilities, the arable soil, the quarriable rock, the 
highways, the byways, the fords, the navigable waters; and the new 
arts of intercourse meet you everywhere; so that England is a huge 
phalanstery, where all that man wants is provided within the 
precinct. Cushioned and comforted in every manner, the traveller 
rides as on a cannon-ball, high and low, over rivers and towns, 
through mountains, in tunnels of three or four miles, at near twice 
the speed of our trains; and reads quietly the Times newspaper, 
which, by its immense correspondence and reporting, seems to 
have machinized the rest of the world for his occasion. 

The problem of the traveller landing at Liverpool is, Why England 
is England ? What are the elements of that power which the English 
hold over other nations? If there be one test of national genius 
universally accepted, it is success; and if there be one successful 
country in the universe for the last millennium, that country is 
England. 



332 ENGLISH TRAITS 

A wise traveller will naturally choose to visit the best of actual 
nations; and an American has more reasons than another to draw 
him to Britain. In all that is done or begun by the Americans towards 
right thinking or practice, we are met by a civilization already 
settled and overpowering. The culture of the day, the thoughts and 
aims of men, are English thoughts and aims. A nation considerable 
for a thousand years since Egbert, it has, in the last centuries, 
obtained the ascendant, and stamped the knowledge, activity, and 
power of mankind with its impress. Those who resist it do not feel 
it or obey it less. The Russian in his snows is aiming to be English. 
The Turk and Chinese also are making awkward efforts to be 
English. The practical common-sense of modern society, the utili- 
tarian direction which labor, laws, opinion, religion take, is the 
natural genius of the British mind. The influence of France is a 
constituent of modern civility, but not enough opposed to the English 
for the most wholesome effect. The American is only the continua- 
tion of the English genius into new conditions, more or less 
propitious. 

See what books fill our libraries. Every book we read, every 
biography, play, romance, in whatever form, is still English history 
and manners. So that a sensible Englishman once said to me, "As 
long as you do not grant us copyright, we shall have the teaching 
of you." 

But we have the same difficulty in making a social or moral 
estimate of England, as the sheriff finds in drawing a jury to try 
some cause which has agitated the whole community, and on which 
everybody finds himself an interested party. Officers, jurors, judges 
have all taken sides. England has inoculated all nations with her 
civiUzation, intelligence, and tastes; and, to resist the tyranny and 
prepossession of the British element, a serious man must aid himself, 
by comparing with it the civilizations of the farthest east and west, 
the old Greek, the Oriental, and, much more, the ideal standard, if 
only by means of the very impatience which English forms are sure 
to awaken in independent minds. 

Besides, if we will visit London, the present time is the best time, 
as some signs portend that it has reached its highest point. It is 
observed that the English interest us a litde less within a few years; 



LAND 333 

and hence the impression that the British power has culminated, 
is in solstice, or already declining. 

As soon as you enter England, which with Wales, is no larger than 
the State of Georgia,' this little land stretches by an illusion to the 
dimensions of an empire. The innumerable details, the crowded 
succession of towns, cities, cathedrals, castles, and great and decorated 
estates, the number and power of the trades and guilds, the military 
strength and splendor, the multitudes of rich and remarkable people, 
the servants and equipages, — all these catching the eye, and never 
allowing it to pause, hide all boundaries by the impression of mag- 
nificence and endless wealth. 

I reply to all the urgencies that refer me to this and that object 
indispensably to be seen, — Yes, to see England well needs a hundred 
years; for, what they told me was the merit of Sir John Soane's 
Museum, in London, — that it was well packed and well saved, — 
is the merit of England; — it is stuffed full, in all corners and crevices, 
with towns, towers, churches, villas, palaces, hospitals, and charity- 
houses. In the history of art it is a long way from a cromlech to 
York minster; yet all the intermediate steps may still be traced in 
this all-preserving island. 

The territory has a singular perfection. The climate is warmer 
by many degrees than it is entitled to by latitude. Neither hot nor 
cold, there is no hour in the whole year when one cannot work. 
Here is no winter, but such days as we have in Massachusetts in 
November, a temperature which makes no exhausting demand on 
human strength, but allows the attainment of the largest stature. 
Charles the Second said, "it invited men abroad more days in the 
year and more hours in the day than another country." Then Eng- 
land has all the materials of a working country except wood. The 
constant rain, — a rain with every tide in some parts of the island, — 
keeps its multitude of rivers full, and brings agricultural production 
up to the highest point. It has plenty of water, of stone, of potter's 
clay, of coal, of salt, and of iron. The land naturally abounds with 
game; immense heaths and downs are paved with quails, grouse, and 
woodcock, and the shores are animated by water birds. The rivers 
and the surrounding sea spawn with fish; there are salmon for the 
'Add South Carolina, and you have more than an equivalent for the area of Scodand. 



334 ENGLISH TRAITS 

rich, and sprats and herrings for the poor. In the northern lochs 
the herring are in innumerable shoals; at one season, the country 
people say, the lakes contain one part water and two parts fish. 

The only drawback on this industrial conveniency is the darkness 
of its sky. The night and day are too nearly of a color. It strains 
the eyes to read and to write. Add the coal smoke. In the manufac- 
turing towns, the fine soot or blacf^s darken the day, give white 
sheep the color of black sheep, discolor the human saliva, contami- 
nate the air, poison many plants, and corrode the monuments and 
buildings. 

The London fog aggravates the distempers of the sky, and some- 
times justifies the epigram on the climate by an English wit, "in a 
fine day, looking up a chimney; in a foul day, looking down one." 
A gentleman in Liverpool told me that he found he could do without 
a fire in his parlor about one day in the year. It is, however, pre- 
tended that the enormous consumption of coal in the island is also 
felt in modifying the general climate. 

Factitious climate, factitious position. England resembles a ship 
in its shape, and, if it were one, its best admiral could not have 
worked it, or anchored it in a more judicious or effective position. 
Sir John Herschel said, "London was the centre of the terrene globe." 
The shopkeeping nation, to use a shop word, has a good stand. The 
old Venetians pleased themselves with the flattery that Venice was in 
45°, midway between the poles and the line; as if that were an 
imperial centrality. Long of old, the Greeks fancied Delphi the 
navel of the earth, in their favorite mode of fabling the earth to be 
an animal. The Jews believed Jerusalem to be the centre. I have 
seen a kratometric chart designed to show that the city of Phila- 
delphia was in the same thermic belt, and, by inference, in the same 
belt of empire, as the cities of Athens, Rome, and London. It was 
drawn by a patriotic Philadelphian, and was examined with pleasure, 
under his showing, by the inhabitants of Chestnut Street. But when 
carried to Charleston, to New Orleans, and to Boston, it somehow 
failed to convince the ingenious scholars of all those capitals. 

But England is anchored at the side of Europe, and right in the 
heart of the modern world. The sea, which, according to Virgil's 
famous hne, divided the poor Britons utterly from the world, proved 



LAND 335 

to be the ring of marriage with all nations. It is not down in the 
books, — it is written only in the geologic strata, — that fortunate day 
when a wave of the German Ocean burst the old isthmus which 
joined Kent and Cornwall to France, and gave to this fragment of 
Europe its impregnable sea wall, cutting off an island of eight 
hundred miles in length, with an irregular breadth reaching to 
three hundred miles; a territory large enough for independence 
enriched with every seed of national power, so near, that it can see 
the harvests of the continent; and so far, that who would cross the 
strait must be an expert mariner, ready for tempests. As America, 
Europe, and Asia lie, these Britons have precisely the best commercial 
position in the whole planet, and are sure of a market for all the 
goods they can manufacture. And to make these advantages avail, 
the river Thames must dig its spacious oudet to the sea from the 
heart of the kingdom, giving road and landing to innumerable 
ships, and all the conveniency to trade, that a people so skilful and 
sufficient in economizing water-front by docks, warehouses, and 
lighters required. When James the First declared his purpose of 
punishing London by removing his Court, the Lord Mayor replied, 
"that, in removing his royal presence from his lieges, they hoped 
he would leave them the Thames." 

In the variety of surface, Britain is a miniature of Europe, having 
plain, forest, marsh, river, seashore; mines in Cornwall; caves in 
Matlock and Derbyshire; delicious landscape in Dovedale, delicious 
sea-view at Tor Bay, Highlands in Scotland, Snowdon in Wales; 
and, in Westmoreland and Cumberland, a pocket Switzerland, in 
which the lakes and mountains are on a sufficient scale to fill the eye 
and touch the imagination. It is a nation conveniendy small. Fonte- 
nelle thought that nature had sometimes a little affectation; and 
there is such an artificial completeness in this nation of artificers, as 
if there were a design from the beginning to elaborate a bigger 
Birmingham. Nature held counsel with herself, and said, "My 
Romans are gone. To build my new empire, I will choose a rude 
race, all mascuUne, with brutish strength. I will not grudge a com- 
petition of the roughest males. Let buffalo gore buffalo and the 
pasture to the strongest! For I have work that requires the best will 
and sinew. Sharp and temperate northern breezes shall blow, to 



336 ENGLISH TRAITS 

keep that will alive and alert. The sea shall disjoin the people from 
others, and knit them to a fierce nationality. It shall give them 
markets on every side. Long time I will keep them on their feet, 
by poverty, border-wars, seafaring, sea-risks, and the stimulus of 
gain. An island, — but not so large, the people not so many, as to 
glut the great markets and depress one another, but proportioned 
to the size of Europe and the continents." 

With its fruits, and wares, and money, must its civil influence 
radiate. It is a singular coincidence to this geographic centrality, 
the spiritual centrality, which Emanuel Swedenborg ascribes to the 
people. "For the English nation, the best of them are in the centre 
of all Christians, because they have interior intellectual light. This 
apf)ears conspicuously in the spiritual world. This light they derive 
from the liberty of speaking and writing, and thereby of thinking." 

CHAPTER rV 

RACE 

An ingenious anatomist has written a book* to prove that races 
are imperishable, but nations are pliant political constructions, easily 
changed or destroyed. But this writer did not found his assumed 
races on any necessary law, disclosing their ideal or metaphysical 
necessity; nor did he, on the other hand, count with precision the 
existing races, and settle the true bounds; a point of nicety, and the 
popular test of the theory. The individuals at the extremes of diver- 
gence in one race of men are as unlike as the wolf to the lapdog. 
Yet each variety shades down imperceptibly into the next, and you 
cannot draw the line where a race begins or ends. Hence every 
writer makes a different count. Blumenbach reckons five races; 
Humboldt three; and Mr. Pickering, who lately, in our Exploring 
Expedition, thinks he saw all kinds of men that can be on the planet, 
makes eleven. 

The British Empire is reckoned to contain 222,000,000 souls, — 
perhaps a fifth of the population of the globe; and to comprise a 
territory of 5,000,000 square miles. So far have British people pre- 
'Thc Races, a Fragment. By Robert Knox. London, 1850. 



RACE 337 

dominated. Perhaps forty of these millions are of British stock. 
Add the United States of America, which reckon, exclusive of 
slaves, 20,000,000 of people, on a territory of 3,000,000 square miles, 
and in which the foreign element, however considerable, is rapidly 
assimilated, and you have a population of English descent and 
language of 60,000,000, and governing a population of 245,000,000 
souls. 

The British census proper reckons twenty-seven and a half mil- 
lions in the home countries. What makes this census important is 
the quality of the units that compxise it. They are free forcible men, 
in a country where life is safe, and has reached the greatest value. 
They give the bias to the current age; and that, not by chance or by 
mass, but by their character, and by the number of individuals among 
them of personal ability. It has been denied that the English have 
genius. Be it as it may, men of vast intellect have been born on their 
soil, and they have made or applied the principal inventions. They 
have sound bodies, and supreme endurance in war and in labor. 
The spawning force of the race has sufficed to the colonization of 
great parts of the world; yet it remains to be seen whether they can 
make good the exodus of millions from Great Britain, amounting, 
in 1852, to more than a thousand a day. They have assimilating force, 
since they are imitated by their foreign subjects; and they are still 
aggressive and propagandist, enlarging the dominion of their arts 
and liberty. Their laws are hospitable, and slavery does not exist 
under them. V/hat oppression exists is incidental and temporary; 
their success is not sudden or fortunate, but they have maintained 
constancy and self-equality for many ages. 

Is this power due to their race, or to some other cause ? Men hear 
gladly of the power of blood or race. Everybody likes to know that 
his advantages cannot be attributed to air, soil, sea, or to local wealth, 
as mines and quarries, nor to laws and traditions, nor to fortune, but 
to superior brain, as it makes the praise more personal to him. 

We anticipate in the doctrine of race something like that law of 
physiology, that, whatever bone, muscle, or essential organ is found 
in one healthy individual, the same part or organ may be found in or 
near the same place in its congener; and we look to find in the son 
every mental and moral property that existed in the ancestor. In 



338 ENGLISH TRAITS 

race, it is not the broad shoulders, or Utheness, or stature that give 
advantage, but a symmetry that reaches as far as to the wit. Then 
the miracle and renown begin. Then first we care to examine the 
pedigree, and copy heedfully the training, — what food they ate, what 
nursing, school, and exercises they had, which resulted in this 
mother-wit, delicacy of thought, and robust wisdom. How came 
such men as King Alfred, and Roger Bacon, William of Wykeham, 
Walter Raleigh, Philip Sidney, Isaac Newton, William Shakspeare, 
George Chapman, Francis Bacon, George Herbert, Henry Vane, to 
exist here? What made these delicate natures? was it the air? was it 
the sea? was it the parentage? For it is certain that these men are 
samples of their contemporaries. The hearing ear is always found 
close to the speaking tongue; and no genius can long or often utter 
anything which is not invited and gladly entertained by men around 
him. 

It is a race, is it not ? that puts the hundred millions of India under 
the dominion of a remote island in the north of Europ)e. Race avails 
much, if that be true, which is alleged, that all Celts are Catholics, 
and all Saxons are Protestants; that Celts love unity of power, and 
Saxons the representative principle. Race is a controlling influence 
in the Jew, who, for two millenniums, under every climate, has 
preserved the same character and employments. Race in the negro 
is of appalling importance. The French in Canada, cut off from 
all intercourse with the parent people, have held their national traits. 
I chanced to read Tacitus "on the Manners of the Germans," not 
long since, in Missouri, and the heart of Illinois, and I found abun- 
dant points of resemblance between the Germans of the Hercynian 
forest, and our Hoosiers, Suckers, and Badgers of the American 
woods. 

But whilst race works immortally to keep its own, it is resisted 
by other forces. Civilization is a reagent, and eats away the old traits. 
The Arabs of to-day are the Arabs of Pharaoh; but the Briton of 
to-day is a very different p)erson from Cassibelaunus or Ossian. Each 
religious sect has its physiognomy. The Methodists have acquired a 
face; the Quakers, a face; the nuns, a face. An Englishman will pick 
out a dissenter by his manners. Trades and professions carve their 
own lines on face and form. Certain circumstances of EngUsh Ufe 



RACE 339 

are not less effective; as, personal liberty; plenty of food; good ale 
and mutton; open market, or good wages for every kind of labor j 
high bribes to talent and skill; the island life, or the million oppor- 
tunities and outlets for expanding and misplaced talent; readiness 
of combination among themselves for politics or for business; strikes; 
and sense of superiority founded on habit, of victory in labor and in 
war; and the appetite for superiority grows by feeding. 

It is easy to add to the counteracting forces to race. Credence is a 
main element. 'Tis said that the views of nature held by any people 
determine all their institutions. Whatever influences add to mental 
or moral faculty take men out of nationality, as out of other condi- 
tions, and make the national life a culpable compromise. 

These limitations of the formidable doctrine of race suggest others 
which threaten to undermine it, as not sufficiently based. The fixity 
or inconvertibleness of races as we see them is a weak argument for 
the eternity of these frail boundaries, since all our historical period is 
a point to the duration in which nature has wrought. Any the least 
and solitariest fact in our natural history, such as the melioration 
of fruits and of animal stocks, has the worth of a power in the 
opportunity of geologic periods. Moreover, though we flatter the 
self-love of men and nations by the legend of pure races, all our 
experience is of the gradation and resolution of races, and strange 
resemblances meet us everywhere. It need not puzzle us that 
Malay and Papuan, Celt and Roman, Saxon and Tartar, should 
mix, when we see the rudiments of tiger and baboon in our human 
form, and know that the barriers of races are not so firm, but that 
some spray sprinkles us from the antediluvian seas. 

The low organizations are simplest; a mere mouth, a jelly, or a 
straight worm. As the scale mounts, the organizations become 
complex. We are piqued with pure descent, but nature loves inocu- 
lation. A child blends in his face the faces of both parents, and some 
feature from every ancestor whose face hangs on the wall. The best 
nations are those most widely related; and navigation, as effecting 
a world-wide mixture, is the most potent advancer of nations. 

The English compxjsite character betrays a mixed origin. Every- 
thing English is a fusion of distant and antagonistic elements. The 
language is mixed; the names of men are of different nations, — 



340 ENGLISH TRAITS 

three languages, three or four nations; — the currents of thought 
are counter: contemplation and practical skill; active intellect and 
dead conservatism; worldwide enterprise, and devoted use and wont; 
aggressive freedom and hospitable law, with bitter class-legislation; 
a people scattered by their wars and affairs over the face of the 
whole earth, and homesick to a man; a country of extremes, — dukes 
and chartists. Bishops of Durham and naked heathen colliers; noth- 
ing can be praised in it without damning exceptions, and nothing 
denounced without salvos of cordial praise. 

Neither do this people appear to be of one stem; but collectively a 
better race than any from which they are derived. Nor is it easy 
to trace it home to its original seats. Who can call by right names 
what races are in Britain? Who can trace them historically? Who 
can discriminate them anatomically, or metaphysically ? 

In the impossibility of arriving at satisfaction on the historical 
question of race, and, — come of whatever disputable ancestry, — the 
indisputable Englishman before me, himself very well marked, and 
nowhere else to be found, — I fancied I could leave quite aside the 
choice of a tribe as his lineal progenitors. Defoe said in his wrath, 
"the Englishman was the mud of all races." I incline to the belief 
that, as water, lime, and sand make mortar, so certain temperaments 
marry well, and, by well-managed contrarieties, develop as drastic 
a character as the English. On the whole, it is not so much a history 
of one or of certain tribes of Saxons, or Frisians, coming from one 
place, and genetically identical, as it is an anthology of temperaments 
out of them all. Certain temperaments suit the sky and soil of 
England, say eight or ten or twenty varieties, as, out of a hundred 
pear trees, eight or ten suit the soil of an orchard, and thrive, whilst 
all the unadapted temperaments die out. 

The English derive their pedigree from such a range of nation- 
alities, that there needs sea-room and land-room to unfold the 
varieties of talent and character. Perhaps the ocean serves as a gal- 
vanic battery to distribute acids at one pole, and alkalies at the 
other. So England tends to accumulate her liberals in America, and 
her conservatives at London. The Scandinavians in her race still 
hear in every age the murmurs of their mother, the ocean; the Briton 
in the blood hugs the homestead still. 



RACE 341 

Again, as if to intensate the influences that are not of race, what 
we think of when we talk of EngHsh traits really narrows itself to 
a small district. It excludes Ireland, and Scotland, and Wales, and 
reduces itself at last to London, that is, to those who come and go 
thither. The portraits that hang on the walls in the Academy Exhi- 
bition at London, the figures in Punch's drawings of the public men, 
or of the club-houses, the prints in the shop windows, are distinctive 
English, and not American, no, nor Scotch, nor Irish; but 'tis a 
very restricted nationality. As you go north into the manufacturing 
and agricultural districts, and to the population that never travels, 
as you go into Yorkshire, as you enter Scotland, the world's English- 
man is no longer found. In Scotland, there is a rapid loss of all 
grandeur of mien and manners; a provincial eagerness and acuteness 
appear; the poverty of the country makes itself remarked, and a 
coarseness of manners; and, among the intellectual, is the insanity 
of dialectics. In Ireland are the same climate and soil as in England, 
but less food, no right relation to the land, political dependence, 
small tenantry, and an inferior or misplaced race. 

These queries concerning ancestry and blood may be well allowed, 
for there is no prosp)erity that seems more to depend on the kind of 
man than British prosperity. Only a hardy and wise jjeople could 
have made this small territory great. We say, in a regatta or yacht- 
race, that if the boats are anywhere nearly matched, it is the man that 
wins. Put the best sailing master into either boat, and he will win. 

Yet it is fine for us to speculate in face of unbroken traditions, 
though vague, and losing themselves in fable. The traditions have 
got footing, and refused to be disturbed. The kitchen<lock is more 
convenient than sidereal time. We must use the popular category, 
as we do by the Linnaean classification, for convenience, and not as 
exact and final. Otherwise, we are presently confounded, when the 
best-settled traits of one race are claimed by some new ethnologist as 
precisely characteristic of the rival tribe. 

I found plenty of well-marked English types, the ruddy com- 
plexion, fair and plump, robust men, with faces cut like a die, and 
a strong island speech and accent; a Norman type, with a com- 
placency that belongs to that constitution. Others, who might be 
Americans, for anything that appeared in their complexion or form: 



342 ENGLISH TRAITS 

and their speech was much less marked, and their thought much 
less bound. We will call them Saxons. Then the Roman has im- 
planted his dark complexion in the trinity or quaternity of bloods. 

1. The sources from which tradition derives their stock are mainly 
three. And, first, they are of the oldest blood of the world, — the 
Celtic. Some peoples are deciduous or transitory. Where are the 
Greeks? where the Etrurians? where the Romans? But the Celts or 
Sidonides are an old family, of whose beginning there is no memory, 
and their end is likely to be still more remote in the future; for they 
have endurance and productiveness. They planted Britain, and gave 
to the seas and mountains names which are poems, and imitate the 
pure voices of nature. They are favorably remembered in the oldest 
records of Europe. They had no violent feudal tenure, but the hus- 
bandman owned the land. They had an alphabet, astronomy, priestly 
culture, and a sublime creed. They have a hidden and precarious 
genius. They made the best popular literature of the Middle Ages 
in the songs of Merlin and the tender and delicious mythology of 
Arthur. 

2. The English come mainly from the Germans, whom the Rom- 
ans found hard to conquer in two hundred and ten years, — say, im- 
possible to conquer, — when one remembers the long sequel; a p>eople 
about whom, in the old empire, the rumor ran, there was never any 
that meddled with them that repented it not. 

3. Charlemagne, halting one day in a town of Narbonnese Gaul, 
looked out of a window, and saw a fleet of Northmen cruising in 
the Mediterranean. They even entered the port of the town where he 
was, causing no small alarm and sudden manning and arming of 
his galleys. As they put out to sea again, the emperor gazed long 
after them, his eyes bathed in tears. "I am tormented with sorrow," 
he said, "when I foresee the evils they will bring on my posterity." 
There was reason for these Xerxes' tears. The men who have built a 
ship and invented the rig, — cordage, sail, compass, and pump, — the 
working in and out of port, have acquired much more than a ship. 
Now arm them, and every shore is at their mercy. For, if they have 
not numerical sup)eriority where they anchor they have only to sail 
a mile or two to find it. Bonaparte's art of war, namely of concen- 



RACE 34J 

trating force on the point of attack, must always be theirs who have 
the choice of the battle-ground. Of course they come into the fight 
from a higher ground of power than the land-nations; and can en- 
gage them on shore with a victorious advantage in the retreat. As 
soon as the shores are sufficiently peopled to make piracy a losing 
business, the same skill and courage are ready for the service of trade. 
The Heimsk/ingla^ or Sagas of the Kings of Norway, collected 
by Snorro Sturleson, is the Iliad and Odyssey of English history. Its 
portraits, like Homer's, are strongly individualized. The Sagas de- 
scribe a monarchical republic like Sparta. The government disappears 
before the importance of citizens. In Norway, no Persian masses 
fight and perish to aggrandize a king, but the actors are bonders or 
landholders, every one of whom is named and jjersonally and patro- 
nymically described, as the king's friend and companion. A sparse 
population gives this high worth to every man. Individuals are 
often noticed as very handsome persons, which trait only brings the 
story nearer to the English race. Then the solid material interest 
predominates, so dear to English understanding, wherein the associ- 
ation is logical, between merit and land. The heroes of the Sagas 
are not the knights of South Europe. No vaporing of France and 
Spain has corrupted them. They are substantial farmers, whom the 
rough times have forced to defend their properties. They have 
weapons which they use in a determined manner, by no means for 
chivalry, but for their acres. They are people considerably advanced 
in rural arts, living amphibiously on a rough coast, and drawing 
half their food from the sea, and half from the land. They have 
herds of cows, and malt, wheat, bacon, butter, and cheese. They 
fish in the fiord, and hunt the deer. A king among these farmers 
has a varying power, sometimes not exceeding the authority of a 
sheriff. A king was maintained much as, in some of our country 
districts, a winter schoolmaster is quartered, a week here, a week 
there, and a fortnight on the next farm, — on all the farmers in rota- 
tion. This the king calls going into guest-quarters; and it was the 
only way in which, in a poor country, a poor king, with many re- 
tainers, could be kept alive, when he leaves his own farm to collect 
his dues through the kingdom. 

' Heimskringla. Translaled by Samuel Laing, Esq. London, 1844. 



344 ENGLISH TRAITS 

These Norsemen are excellent persons in the main, with good 
sense, steadiness, wise speech, and prompt action. But they have a 
singular turn for homicide; their chief end of man is to murder, or 
to be murdered; oars, scythes, harpoons, crowbars, peatknives, and 
hayforks are tools valued by them all the more for their charming 
aptitude for assassinations. A pair of kings, after dinner, will divert 
themselves by thrusting each his sword through the other's body, 
as did Yngve and Alf. Another pair ride out on a morning for a 
frolic, and, finding no weapon near, will take the bits out of their 
horses' mouths, and crush each other's heads with them, as did 
Alric and Eric. The sight of a tent<ord or a cloak-string puts them 
on hanging somebody, a wife, or a husband, or, best of all, a king. 
If a farmer has so much as a hayfork, he sticks it into a King Dag. 
King Ingiald finds it vastly amusing to burn up half a dozen kings 
in a hall, after getting them drunk. Never was poor gentleman so 
surfeited with life, so furious to be rid of it, as the Northman. If he 
cannot pick any other quarrel, he will get himself comfortably gored 
by a bull's horns, like Egil, or slain by a landslide, like the agricul- 
tural King Onund. Odin died in his bed, in Sweden; but it was 
a proverb of ill condition, to die the death of old age. King Hake 
of Sweden cuts and slashes in battle, as long as he can stand, then 
orders his war-ship, loaded with his dead men and their weapwns, 
to be taken out to sea, the tiller shipp)ed, and the sails spread; being 
left alone, he sets fire to some tarwood, and lies down contented on 
deck. The wind blew off the land, the ship flew burning in clear 
flame, out between the islets into the ocean, and there was the right 
end of King Hake. 

The early Sagas are sanguinary and piratical; the later are of a 
noble strain. History rarely yields us better passages than the con- 
versation between King Sigurd the Crusader and King Eystein, his 
brother, on their respective merits, — one, the soldier, and the other, 
a lover of the arts of peace. 

But the reader of the Norman history must steel himself by hold- 
ing fast the remote compensations which result from animal vigor. 
As the old fossil world shows that the first steps of reducing the chaos 
were confided to saurians and other huge and horrible animals, so 



RACE 345 

the foundations of the new civility were to be laid by the most 
savage men. 

The Normans came out of France into England worse men than 
they went into it, one hundred and sixty years before. They had 
lost their own language, and learned the Romance or barbarous 
Latin of the Gauls; and had acquired, with the language, all the 
vices it had names for. The conquest has obtained in the chronicles 
the name of the "memory of sorrow." Twenty thousand thieves 
landed at Hastings. These founders of the House of Lords were 
greedy and ferocious dragoons, sons of greedy and ferocious pirates. 
They were all alike, they took everything they could carry, they 
burned, harried, violated, tortured, and killed, until everything Eng- 
lish was wrought to the verge of ruin. Such, however, is the illusion 
of antiquity and wealth, that decent and dignified men now existing 
boast their descent from these filthy thieves, who showed a far juster 
conviction of their own merits, by assuming for their types the 
swine, goat, jackal, leopard, wolf, and snake, which they severally 
resembled. 

England yielded to the Danes and Northmen in the tenth and 
eleventh centuries, and was the receptacle into which all the mettle 
of that strenuous population was poured. The continued draught 
of the best men in Norway, Sweden, and Denmark to these piratical 
expeditions, exhausted those countries, like a tree which bears much 
fruit when young, and these have been second-rate powers ever since. 
The power of the race migrated, and left Norway void. King Olaf 
said, "When King Harold, my father, went westward to England, 
the chosen men in Norway followed him: but Norway was so 
emptied then, that such men have not since been to find in the 
country, nor especially such a leader as King Harold was for wis- 
dom and bravery." 

It was a tardy recoil of these invasions, when, in 1801, the British 
government sent Nelson to bombard the Danish forts in the Sound; 
and, in 1807, Lord Cathcart, at Copenhagen, took the entire Danish 
fleet, as it lay in the basins, and all the equipments from the Arsenal, 
and carried them to England. Konghelle, the town where the kings 
of Norway, Sweden, and Denmark were wont to meet, is now rented 
to a private English gentleman for a hunting ground. 



346 ENGLISH TRAITS 

It took many generations to trim, and comb, and perfume the 
first boat-load of Norse pirates into royal highnesses and most noble 
Knights of the Garter: but every sparkle of ornament dates back to 
the Norse boat. There will be time enough to mellow this strength 
into civiUty and rehgion. It is a medical fact that the children of the 
blind see; the children of felons have a healthy conscience. Many a 
mean, dastardly boy is, at the age of puberty, transformed in a 
serious and generous youth. 

The mildness of the following ages has not quite effaced these 
traits of Odin; as the rudiment of a structure matured in the tiger 
is said to be still found unabsorbed in the Caucasian man. The 
nation has a tough, acrid, animal nature, which centuries of church- 
ing and civiHzing have not been able to sweeten. Alfieri said, "The 
crimes of Italy were the proof of the superiority of the stock;" and 
one may say of England that this watch moves on a splinter of 
adamant. The English uncultured are a brutal nation. The crimes 
recorded in their calendars leave nothing to be desired in the way 
of cold malignity. Dear to the English heart is a fair standup fight. 
The brutality of the manners in the lower class appears in the boxing, 
bear-baiting, cock-fighting, love of executions, and in the readiness 
for a set-to in the streets, delightful to the English of all classes. The 
costermongers of London streets hold cowardice in loathing: — ^"We 
must work our fists well; we are all handy with our fists." The 
public schools are charged with being bear-gardens of brutal strength, 
and are liked by the people for that cause. The fagging is a trait 
of the same quality. Medwin, in the Life of Shelley, relates that, 
at a miUtary school, they rolled up a young man in a snowball, and 
left him so in his room, while the other cadets went to church; — 
and crippled him for life. They have retained impressment, deck- 
flogging, army-flogging, and school-flogging. Such is the ferocity of 
the army discipline, that a soldier sentenced to flogging, sometimes 
prays that his sentence may be commuted to death. Flogging, ban- 
ished from the armies of Western Europe, remains here by the sanc- 
tion of the Duke of Wellington. The right of the husband to sell 
the wife has been retained down to our times. The Jews have been 
the favorite victims of royal and popular persecution. Henry III. 
mortgaged all the Jews in the kingdom to his brother, the Earl 



RACE 347 

of Cornwall, as security for money which he borrowed. The torture 
of criminals, and the rack for extorting evidence, were slowly dis- 
used. Of the criminal statutes, Sir Samuel Romilly said, "I have 
examined the codes of all nations, and ours is the worst, and worthy 
of the Anthropophagi." In the last session, the House of Commons 
was listening to details of flogging and torture practised in the jails. 

As soon as this land, thus geographically posted, got a hardy people 
into it, they could not help becoming the sailors and factors of the 
globe. From childhood, they dabbled in water, they swum like 
fishes, their playthings were boats. In the case of the ship-money, 
the judges delivered it for law, that "England being an island, the 
very midland shires therein are all to be accounted maritime;" and 
Fuller adds, "the genius even of landlocked counties driving the 
nadves with a maritime dexterity." As early as the conquest, it is 
remarked in explanation of the wealth of England, that its merchants 
trade to all countries. 

The English, at the present day, have great vigor of body and 
endurance. Other countrymen look slight and undersized beside 
them, and invalids. They are bigger men than the Americans. I sup- 
pose a hundred English taken at random out of the street, would 
weigh a fourth more than so many Americans. Yet, I am told, the 
skeleton is not larger. They are round, ruddy and handsome; at 
least, the whole bust is well formed; and there is a tendency to stout 
and powerful frames. I remarked the stoutness, on my first landing 
at Liverpool; porter, drayman, coachman, guard, — what substandal, 
respectable, grandfatherly figures, with costume and manners to 
suit. The American has arrived at the old mansion-house, and finds 
himself among uncles, aunts, and grandsires. The pictures on the 
chimney-ules of his nursery were pictures of these people. Here they 
are in the identical costumes and air which so took him. 

It is the fault of their forms that they grow stocky, and the women 
have that disadvantage, — few tall, slender figures of flowing shapes, 
but stunted and thickset persons. The French say that the English 
women have two left hands. But, in all ages, they are a handsome 
race. The bronze monuments of crusaders lying cross-legged, in 
the Temple Church at London, and those in Worcester and in Salis- 
bury Cathedrals, which are seven hundred years old, are of the same 



348 ENGLISH TRAITS 

type as the best youthful heads of men now in England; — please by 
beauty of the same character, an expression blending good nature, 
valor, and refinement, and, mainly, by that uncorrupt youth in the 
face of manhood, which is daily seen in the streets of London. 

Both branches of the Scandinavian race are distinguished for 
beauty. The anecdote of the handsome captives which Saint Gregory 
found at Rome, a. d. 600, is matched by the testimony of the Norman 
chroniclers, five centuries later, who wondered at the beauty and 
long flowing hair of the young English captives. Meantime, the 
Heimskringla has frequent occasion to speak of the personal beauty 
of its heroes. When it is considered what humanity, what resources 
of mental and moral power, the traits of the blond race betoken, — its 
accession to empire marks a new and finer epoch, wherein the old 
mineral force shall be subjugated at last by humanity, and shall 
plough in its furrow henceforward. It is not a final race, once a crab 
always a crab, but a race with a future. 

On the English face are combined decision and nerve, with the 
fair complexion, blue eyes, and open and florid aspect. Hence the 
love of truth, hence the sensibility, the fine perception, and poetic 
construction. The fair Saxon man, with open front, and honest 
meaning, domestic, affectionate, is not the wood out of which can- 
nibal, or inquisitor, or assassin is made, but he is moulded for law, 
lawful trade, civility, marriage, the nurture of children, for colleges, 
churches, charities, and colonies. 

They are rather manly than warlike. When the war is over, the 
mask falls from the affectionate and domestic tastes, which make 
them women in kindness. This union of qualities is fabled in their 
national legend of Beauty and the Beast, or long before, in the Greek 
legend of Hermaphrodite. The two sexes are co-present in the Eng- 
lish mind. I apply to Britannia, queen of seas and colonies, the 
words in which her latest novelist portrays his heroine: "She is as 
mild as she is game, and as game as she is mild." The English de- 
light in the antagonism which combines in one person the extremes 
of courage and tenderness. Nelson, dying at Trafalgar, sends his 
love to Lxjrd Colli ngwood, and, like an innocent schoolboy that goes 
to bed, says, "Kiss me, Hardy," and turns to sleep. Lord CoUing- 
wood, his comrade, was of a nature the most affectionate and 



RACE 349 

domestic. Admiral Rodney's figure approached to delicacy and 
effeminacy, and he declared himself very sensible to fear, which he 
surmounted only by considerations of honor and public duty. Claren- 
don says, the Duke of Buckingham was so modest and gentle, that 
some courtiers attempted to put affronts on him, until they found 
that this modesty and effeminacy was only a mask for the most 
terrible determination. And Sir James Parry said, the other day, of 
Sir John Franklin, that, "if he found Wellington Sound open, he 
explored it; for he was a man who never turned his back on a danger, 
yet of that tenderness, that he would not brush away a mosquito." 
Even for their highwaymen the same virtue is claimed, and Robin 
Hood comes described to us as mitissimus prcedonum, the gendest 
thief. But they know where their wardogs lie. Cromwell, Blake, 
Marlborough, Chatham, Nelson, and Wellington are not to be trifled 
with, and the brutal strength which lies at the bottom of society, 
the animal ferocity of the quays and cockpits, the bullies of the 
costermongers of Shoreditch, Seven Dials, and Spitalfields, they 
know how to wake up. 

They have a vigorous health, and last well into middle and old 
age. The old men are as red as roses, and still handsome. A clear 
skin, a peachbloom complexion, and good teeth are found all over 
the island. They use a plentiful and nutritious diet. The operative 
cannot subsist on water<resses. Beef, mutton, wheatbread, and malt- 
liquors are universal among the first<lass laborers. Good feeding 
is a chief point of national pride among the vulgar, and, in their 
caricatures, they represent the Frenchman as a poor, starved body. 
It is curious that Tacitus found the English beer already in use 
among the Germans: "They make from barley or wheat a drink 
corrupted into some resemblance to wine." Lord Chief Justice For- 
tescue, in Henry VI.'s time, says, "The inhabitants of England drink 
no water, unless at certain times, on a religious score, and by way 
of penance." The extremes of poverty and ascetic penance, it would 
seem, never reach cold water in England. Wood, the antiquary, in 
describing the poverty and maceration of Father Lacey, an English 
Jesuit, does not deny him beer. He says, "His bed was under a 
thatching, and the way to it up a ladder; his fare was coarse; his 
drink, of a penny a gawn, or gallon." 



350 ENGLISH TRAITS 

They have more constitutional energy than any other people 
They think, with Henri Quatre, that manly exercises are the founda- 
tion of that elevation of mind which gives one nature ascendant 
over another; or, with the Arabs, that the days spent in the chase 
are not counted in the length of life. They box, run, shoot, ride, 
row, and sail from pole to pole. They eat, and drink, and live jolly 
in the open air, putting a bar of solid sleep between day and day. 
They walk and ride as fast as they can, their head bent forward, 
as if urged on some pressing affair. The French say that Englishmen 
in the street always walk straight before them, like mad dogs. Men 
and women walk with infatuation. As soon as he can handle a gun, 
hunting is the fine art of every Englishman of condition. They are 
the most voracious people of prey that ever existed. Every season 
turns out the aristocracy into the country, to shoot and fish. The 
more vigorous run out of the island to Europe, to America, to Asia, 
to Africa, and Australia, to hunt with fury by gun, by trap, by har- 
poon, by lasso; with dog, with horse, with elephant, or with drome- 
dary, all the game that is in nature. These men have written the 
game-books of all countries, as Hawker, Scrope, Murray, Herbert, 
Maxwell, Gumming, and a host of travellers. The people at home 
are addicted to boxing, running, leaping, and rowing matches. 

I suppose, the dogs and horses must be thanked for the fact that 
the men have muscles almost as tough and supple as their own. If 
in every efficient man there is first a fine animal, in the English race 
it is of the best breed, a wealthy, juicy, broad<hested creature, 
steeped in ale and good cheer, and a little overloaded by his flesh. 
Men of animal nature rely, Uke animals, on their instincts. The 
Enghshman associates well with dogs and horses. His attachment 
to the horse arises from the courage and address required to manage 
it. The horse finds out who is afraid of it, and does not disguise 
its opinion. Their young boiling clerks and lusty collegians like the 
company of horses better than the company of professors. I suppose 
the horses are better company for them. The horse has more uses 
than Buffon noted. If you go into the streets, every driver in 'bus 
or dray is a bully, and, if I wanted a good troop of soldiers I should 
recruit among the stables. Add a certain degree of refinement to 



RACE 351 

the vivacity of these riders, and you obtain the precise quality which 
makes the men and women of polite society formidable. 

They come honestly by their horsemanship, with Hengst and 
Horsa for their Saxon founders. The other branch of their race 
had been Tartar nomads. The horse was all their wealth. The chil- 
dren were fed on mares' milk. The pastures of Tartary were still 
remembered by the tenacious practice of the Norsemen to eat horse- 
flesh at religious feasts. In the Danish invasions, the marauders 
seized upon horses where they landed, and were at once converted 
into a body of exp>ert cavalry. 

At one time this skill seems to have declined. Two centuries ago 
the English horse never performed any eminent service beyond the 
seas; and the reason assigned was that the genius of the English 
hath always more inclined them to foot-service, as pure and proper 
manhood, without any mixture; whilst, in a victory on horseback, 
the credit ought to be divided betwixt the man and his horse. But 
in two hundred years a change has taken place. Now, they boast 
that they understand horses better than any people in the world, and 
that their horses are become their second selves. 

"William the Conqueror being," says Camden, "better affected to 
beasts than to men, imposed heavy fines and punishments on those 
that should meddle with his game." The Saxon Chronicle says, 
"He loved the tall deer as if he were their father." And rich Eng- 
lishmen have followed his example, according to their ability, ever 
since, in encroaching on the tillage and commons with their game- 
preserves. It is a proverb in England that it is safer to shoot a man 
than a hare. The severity of the game-laws certainly indicates an 
extravagant sympathy of the nation with horses and hunters. The 
gentlemen are always on horseback, and have brought horses to an 
ideal perfection, — the English racer is a factitious breed. A score or 
two of mounted gentlemen may frequently be seen running like 
centaurs down a hill nearly as steep as the roof of a house. Every 
inn-room is lined with pictures of races; telegraphs communicate, 
every hour, tidings of the heats from Newmarket and Ascot: and 
the House of Commons adjourns over the "Derby Day." 



352 ENGLISH TRAITS 

CHAPTER V 

ABILITY 

The Saxon and the Northman are both Scandinavians. History 
does not allow us to fix the limits of the application of these names 
with any accuracy; but from the residence of a portion of these 
people in France, and from some effect of that powerful soil on 
their blood and manners, the Norman has come popularly to repre- 
sent in England the aristocratic, — and the Saxon the democratic 
principle. And though, I doubt not, the nobles are of both tribes, 
and the workers of both, yet we are forced to use the names a little 
mythically, one to represent the worker, and the other the enjoyer. 

The island was a prize for the best race. Each of the dominant 
races tried its fortune in turn. The Phoenician, the Celt, and the 
Goth had already got in. The Roman came, but in the very day 
when his fortune culminated. He looked in the eyes of a new people 
that was to supplant his own. He disembarked his legions, erected 
his camps and towers, — presently he heard bad news from Italy, and 
worse and worse, every year; at last, he made a handsome compli- 
ment of roads and walls, and departed. But the Saxon seriously 
settled in the land, builded, tilled, fished, and traded, with German 
truth and adhesiveness. The Dane came, and divided with him. 
Last of all, the Norman, or French-Dane, arrived, and formally con- 
quered, harried, and ruled the kingdom. A century later, it came 
out that the Saxon had the most bottom and longevity, had managed 
to make the victor speak the language and accept the law and usage 
of the victim; forced the baron to dictate Saxon terms to Norman 
kings; and, step by step, got all the essential securities of civil liberty 
invented and confirmed. The genius of the race and the genius 
of the place conspired to this effect. The island is lucrative to free 
labor, but not worth possession on other terms. The race was so 
intellectual, that a feudal or military tenure could not last longer 
than the war. The power of the Saxon-Danes so thoroughly beaten 
in the war that the name of English and villein were synonymous, 
yet so vivacious as to extort charters from the kings, stood on the 
strong personality of these people. Sense and economy must rule in 



ABILITY 353 

a world which is made of sense and economy, and the banker, with 
his seven per cent, drives the earl out of his castle. A nobility of 
soldiers cannot keep down a commonalty of shrewd scientific per- 
sons. What signifies a f)edigree of a hundred links, against a cotton- 
spinner with steam in his mill; or, against a company of broad- 
shouldered Liverpool merchants, for whom Stephenson and Brunei 
are contriving locomotives and a tubular bridge? 

These Saxons are the hands of mankind. They have the taste for 
toil, a distaste for pleasure or rejxjse, and the telescopic appreciation 
of distant gain. They are the wealthmakers, — and by dint of mental 
faculty, which has its own conditions. The Saxon works after liking, 
or, only for himself; and to set him at work, and to begin to draw 
his monstrous values out of barren Britain, all dishonor, fret, and 
barrier must be removed, and then his energies begin to play. 

The Scandinavian fancied himself surrounded by Trolls, — a kind 
of goblin men, with vast power of work and skilful production, — 
divine stevedores, carpenters, reapers, smiths, and masons, swift to 
reward every kindness done them, with gifts of gold and silver. In 
all English history, this dream comes to pass. Certain Trolls or 
working brains, under the names of Alfred, Bede, Caxton, Bracton, 
Camden, Drake, Selden, Dugdale, Newton, Gibbon, Brindley, Watt, 
Wedgwood, dwell in the troll-mounts of Britain, and turn the sweat 
of their face to power and renown. 

If the race is good, so is the place. Nobody landed on this spell- 
bound island with impunity. The enchantments of barren shingle 
and rough weather transformed every adventurer into a laborer. 
Each vagabond that arrived bent his neck to the yoke of gain, or 
found the air too tense for him. The strong survived, the weaker 
went to the ground. Even the pleasure-hunters and sots of England 
are of a tougher texture. A hard temperature had been formed by 
Saxon and Saxon-Dane, and such of these French or Normans as 
could reach it were naturalized in every sense. 

All the admirable expedients or means hit upon in England must 
be looked at as growths or irresistible offshoots of the expanding 
mind of the race. A man of that brain thinks and acts thus; and 
his neighbor, being afflicted with the same kind of brain, though he 
is rich, and called a baron, or a duke, thinks the same thing, and is 



354 ENGLISH TRAITS 

ready to allow the justice of the thought and act in his retainer or 

tenant, though sorely against his baronial or ducal will. 

The island was renowned in antiquity for its breed of mastiffs, so 
fierce that, when their teeth were set, you must cut their heads off 
to part them. The man was hke his dog. The people have that 
nervous bihous temperament, which is known by medical men to 
resist every means employed to make its possessor subservient to the 
will of others. The English game is main force to main force, the 
planting of foot to foot, fair play and open field, — a rough tug with- 
out trick or dodging, till one or both come to pieces. King Ethel- 
wald spoke the language of his race, when he planted himself at 
Wimborne, and said, "he would do one of two things, or there live, 
or there lie." They hate craft and subtlety. They neither poison, nor 
waylay, nor assassinate; and when they have fxjunded each other 
to a poultice, they will shake hands and be friends for the remainder 
of their lives. 

You shall trace these Gothic touches at school, at country fairs, 
at the hustings, and in ParHament. No artifice, no breach of truth 
and plain dealing, — not so much as secret ballot, is suffered in the 
island. In Parliament, the tactics of the opposition is to resist every 
step of the government, by a pitiless attack: and in a bargain, no 
prospect of advantage is so dear to the merchant, as the thought of 
being tricked is mortifying. 

Sir Kenelm Digby, a courtier of Charles and James who won the 
sea-fight of Scanderoon, was a model Englishman in his day. "His 
person was handsome and gigantic, he had so graceful elocution 
and noble address that, had he been dropt out of the clouds in any 
part of the world, he would have made himself respected: he was 
skilled in six tongues, and master of arts and arms.*" Sir Kenelm 
wrote a book, "Of Bodies and of Souls," in which he propounds 
that "Syllogisms do breed or rather are all the variety of man's life. 
They are the steps by which we walk in all our businesses. Man, 
as he is man, doth nothing else but weave such chains. Whatsoever 
he doth, swarving from this work, he doth as deficient from the 
nature of man : and, if he do aught beyond this, by breaking out into 
divers sorts of exterior actions, he findeth, nevertheless, in this linked 

' Antony Wood. 



ABILITY 355 

sequel of simple discourses, the art, the cause, the rule, the bounds, 
and the model of it.'"* 

There spoke the genius of the English people. There is a necessity 
on them to be logical. They would hardly greet the good that did 
not logically fall, — as if it excluded their own merit, or shook their 
understandings. They are jealous of minds that have much facility 
of association, from an instinctive fear that the seeing many relations 
to their thought might impair this serial continuity and lucrative 
concentration. They are impatient of genius, or of minds addicted 
to contemplation, and cannot conceal their contempt for sallies of 
thought, however lawful, whose steps they cannot count by their 
wonted rule. Neither do they reckon better a syllogism that ends in 
syllogism. For they have a supreme eye to facts, and theirs is a logic 
that brings salt to soup, hammer to nail, oar to boat, the logic of 
cooks, carpenters, and chemists, following the sequence of nature, 
and one on which words make no impression. Their mind is not 
dazzled by its own means, but locked and bolted to results. They 
love men who, like Samuel Johnson, a doctor in the schools, would 
jump out of his syllogism the instant his major proposition was in 
danger, to save that, at all hazards. The practical vision is spacious, 
and they can hold many threads without entangling them. All the 
steps they orderly take; but with the high logic of never confounding 
the minor and major proposition; keeping their eye on their aim, in 
all the complicity and delay incident to the several series of means 
they employ. There is room in their minds for this and that, — a 
science of degrees. In the courts, the independence of the judges and 
the loyalty of the suitors are equally excellent. In Parliament, they 
have hit on that capital invention of freedom, a constitutional oppo- 
sition. And when courts and Parliament are both deaf, the plaintiff 
is not silenced. Calm, patient, his weapon of defence from year to 
year is the obstinate reproduction of the grievance with calculations 
and estimates. But, meantime, he is drawing numbers and money 
to his opinion, resolved that if all remedy fails, right of revolution 
is at the bottom of his charter-box. They are bound to see their 
measure carried, and stick to it through ages of defeat. 

Into this English logic, however, an infusion of justice enters, not 
'Man's Soule, p. 29. 



356 ENGLISH TRAITS 

SO apparent in other races, — a belief in the existence of two sides, 
and the resolution to see fair play. There is on every question an 
appeal from the assertion of the parties to the proof of what is as- 
serted. They are impious in their scepticism of a theory, but kiss 
the dust before a fact. Is it a machine, is it a charter, is it a boxer 
in the ring, is it a candidate on the hustings, — the universe of Eng- 
lishmen will suspend their judgment until the trial can be had. They 
are not to be led by a phrase, they want a working plan, a working 
machine, a working constitution, and will sit out the trial, and abide 
by the issue, and reject all preconceived theories. In politics they 
put blunt questions, which must be answered; who is to pay the 
taxes? what will you do for trade? what for corn? what for the 
spinner ? 

This singular fairness and its results strike the French with sur- 
prise. Philip de Commines says, "Now, in my opinion, among all 
the sovereignties I know in the world, that in which the public good 
is best attended to, and the least violence exercised on the p)eople, 
is that of England." Life is safe, and personal rights; and what is 
freedom, without security ? whilst, in France, "fraternity," "equality," 
and "indivisible unity," are names for assassination. Montesquieu 
said "England is the freest country in the world. If a man in Eng- 
land had as many enemies as hairs on his head, no harm would 
happen to him." 

Their self-respect, their faith in causation, and their realistic logic 
or coupling of means to ends, have given them the leadership of 
the modern world. Montesquieu said, "No people have true com- 
mon sense but those who are born in England." This common sense 
is a {perception of all the conditions of our earthly existence, of laws 
that can be stated, and of laws that cannot be stated, or that are 
learned only by practice, in which allowance for friction is made. 
They are impious in their scepticism of theory, and in high depart- 
ments they are cramped and sterile. But the unconditional surrender 
to facts, and the choice of means to reach their ends, are as admirable 
as with ants and bees. 

The bias of the nation is a passion for utility. They love the lever, 
the screw, and pulley, the Flanders draught-horse, the water-fall, 
wind-mills, tide-mills; the sea and the wind to bear their freight 



ABILITY 357 

ships. More than the diamond Koh-i-noor, which gUtters among 
their crown jewels, they prize that dull pebble which is wiser than 
a man, whose poles turn themselves to the poles of the world, and 
whose axis is parallel to the axis of the world. Now, their toys are 
steam and galvanism. They are heavy at the fine arts, but adroit at 
the coarse; not good in jewelry or mosaics, but the best iron-masters, 
colliers, wool-combers, and tanners in Europe. They apply them- 
selves to agriculture, to draining, to resisting encroachments of sea, 
wind, travelling sands, cold and wet subsoil; to fishery, to manufac- 
ture of indispensable staples, — salt, plumbago, leather, wool, glass, 
pottery, and brick, — to bees and silkworms; — and by their steady 
combinations they succeed. A manufacturer sits down to dinner in 
a suit of clothes which was wool on a sheep's back at sunrise. You 
dine with a gentleman on venison, pheasant, quail, pigeons, poultry, 
mushrooms, and pine-apples, all the growth of his estate. They are 
neat husbands for ordering all their tools pertaining to house and 
field. All are well kept. There is no want and no waste. They study 
use and fitness in their building, in the order of their dwellings, 
and in their dress. The Frenchman invented the ruffle, the EngUsh- 
man added the shirt. The Englishman wears a sensible coat but- 
toned to the chin, of rough but soUd and lasting texture. If he is 
a lord, he dresses a little worse than a commoner. They have diffused 
the taste for plain substantial hats, shoes, and coats through Europe. 
They think him the best dressed man, whose dress is so fit for his 
use that you cannot notice or remember to describe it. 

They secure the essentials in their diet, in their arts, and manu- 
factures. Every article of cutlery shows, in its shape, thought and 
long experience of workmen. They put the expense in the right 
place, as, in their sea-steamers, in the solidity of the machinery and 
the strength of the boat. The admirable equipment of their arctic 
ships carries London to the pole. They build roads, aqueducts, warm 
and ventilate houses. And they have impressed their directness and 
practical habit on modern civilization. 

In trade, the Englishman believes that nobody breaks who ought 
not to break; and that, if he do not make trade everything, it will 
make him nothing; and acts on this belief. The spirit of system, 
attention to details, and the subordination of details, or the not 



358 ENGLISH TRAITS 

driving things too finely (which is charged on the Germans), con- 
stitute that despatch of business which makes the mercantile power 
of England. 

In war, the Englishman looks to his means. He is of the opinion 
of Civilis, his German ancestor, whom Tacitus reports as holding 
"that the gods are on the side of the strongest;" — a sentence which 
Bonaparte unconsciously translated, when he said, "that he had 
noticed, that Providence always favored the heaviest battalion." 
Their military science propounds that if the weight of the advancing 
column is greater than that of the resisting, the latter is destroyed. 
Therefore Wellington, when he came to the army in Spain, had 
every man weighed, first with accoutrements, and then without; be- 
lieving that the force of an army depended on the weight and power 
of the individual soldiers, in spite of cannon. Lord Palmerston told 
the House of Commons that more care is taken of the health and 
comfort of English troops than of any other troops in the world, 
and that hence the English can put more men into the rank, on the 
day of action, on the field of battle, than any other army. Before 
the bombardment of the Danish forts in the Baltic, Nelson spent 
day after day, himself in the boats, on the exhausting service of 
sounding the channel. Clerk of Eldin's celebrated manoeuvre of 
breaking the line of sea-battle, and Nelson's feat of doubling, or 
stationing his ships one on the outer bow, and another on the outer 
quarter of each of the enemy's, were only translations into naval 
tactics of Bonaparte's rule of concentration. Lord Collingwood 
was accustomed to tell his men that, if they could fire three well- 
directed broadsides in five minutes, no vessel could resist them; 
and, from constant practice, they came to do it in three minutes 
and a half. 

But conscious that no race of better men exists, they rely most on 
the simplest means; and do not like ponderous and difficult tactics, 
but delight to bring the affair hand to hand, where the victory lies 
with the strength, courage, and endurance of the individual com- 
batants. They adopt every improvement in rig, in motor, in weapons, 
but they fundamentally believe that the best stratagem in naval war 
is to lay your ship close alongside of the enemy's ship, and bring all 
your guns to bear on him, until you or he go to the bottom. This 



ABILITY 359 

is the old fashion, which never goes out of fashion, neither in nor 
out of England. 

It is not usually a point of honor, nor a religious sentiment, and 
never any whim that they will shed their blood for; but usually 
property, and right measured by property, that breeds revolution. 
They have no Indian taste for a tomahawk-dance, no French taste 
for a badge or a proclamation. The Englishman is peaceably mind- 
ing his business, and earning his day's wages. But if you offer to lay 
hand on his day's wages, on his cow, or his right in common, or his 
shop, he will fight to the Judgment. Magna<harta, jury-trial, habeas- 
corpus, star<hamber, ship-money. Popery, Plymouth<olony, Amer- 
ican Revolution, are all questions involving a yeoman's right to his 
dinner, and, except as touching that, would not have lashed the 
British nation to rage and revolt. 

Whilst they are thus instinct with a spirit of order, and of calcula- 
tion, it must be owned they are capable of larger views; but the 
indulgence is expensive to them, cost great crises, or accumulations 
of mental power. In common the horse works best with blinders. 
Nothing is more in the line of English thought, than our unvar- 
nished Connecticut question, "Pray, sir, how do you get your living 
when you are at home?" — The questions of freedom, of taxation, of 
privilege, are money questions. Heavy fellows, steeped in beer and 
fleshpots, they are hard of hearing and dim of sight. Their drowsy 
minds need to be flagellated by war and trade and politics and 
persecution. They cannot well read a principle, except by the light 
of fagots and of burning towns. 

Tacitus says of the Germans, "Powerful only in sudden efforts, 
they are impatient of toil and labor." This highly destined race, if 
it had not somewhere added the chamber of patience to its brain, 
would not have built London. I know not from which of the tribes 
and temperaments that went to the composition of the people this 
tenacity was supplied, but they clinch every nail they drive. They 
had no running for luck, and no immoderate speed. They spend 
largely on their fabric, and await the slow return. Their leather Ues 
tanning seven years in the vat. At Rogers's mills, in Sheffield, where 
I was shown the process of making a razor and a penknife, I was 
told there is no luck in making good steel; that they make no mis- 



360 ENGLISH TRAITS 

takes, every blade in the hundred and in the thousand is good. And 
that is characteristic of all their work, — no more is attempted than 
is done. 

When Thor and his companions arrive at Utgard,he is told that 
"nobody is permitted to remain here, unless he understand some art, 
and excel in it all other men." The same question is still put to the 
posterity of Thor. A nation of laborers, every man is trained to 
some one art or detail, and aims at perfection in that; not content 
unless he has something in which he thinks he surpasses all other 
men. He would rather not do anything at all, than not do it well. 
I suppose no people have such thoroughness; — from the highest to 
the lowest, every man meaning to be master of his art. 

"To show capacity," a Frenchman described as the end of a speech 
in debate: "No," said an Englishman, "but to set your shoulder at 
the wheel, — to advance the business." Sir Samuel Romilly refused 
to speak in popular assemblies, confining himself to the House of 
Commons, where a measure can be carried by a speech. The busi- 
ness of the House of Commons is conducted by a few persons, but 
these are hard-worked. Sir Robert Peel "knew the Blue Books by 
heart." His colleagues and rivals carry Hansard in their heads. The 
high civil and legal offices are not beds of ease, but f)osts which exact 
frightful amounts of mental labor. Many of our great leaders, like 
Pitt, Canning, Castlereagh, Romilly, are soon worked to death. They 
are excellent judges in England of a good worker, and when they 
find one like Clarendon, Sir Philip Warwick, Sir William Coventry, 
Ashley, Burke, Thurlow, Mansfield, Pitt, Eldon, Peel, or Russell, 
there is nothing too good or too high for him. 

They have a wonderful heat in the pursuit of a pubUc aim. Private 
persons exhibit, in scientific and antiquarian researches, the same 
pertinacity as the nation showed in the coalitions in which it yoked 
Europe against the empire of Bonaparte, one after the other defeated, 
and still renewed, until the sixth hurled him from his seat. 

Sir John Herschel, in completion of the work of his father, who 
had made the catalogue of the stars of the northern hemisphere, 
expatriated himself for years at the Cape of Good Hope, finished 
his inventory of the southern heaven, came home, and redacted it 
ia eight years more; — a work whose value does not begin until 



ABILITY 361 

thirty years have elapsed, and thenceforward a record to all ages 
of the highest import. The Admiralty sent out the Arctic expedi- 
tions year after year, in search of Sir John Franklin, until, at last, 
they have threaded their way through polar pack and Behring's 
Straits, and solved the geographical problem. Lord Elgin, at Athens, 
saw the imminent ruin of the Greek remains, set up his scaffoldings, 
in spite of epigrams, and, after five years' labor to collect them, 
got his marbles on shipboard. The ship struck a rock, and went 
to the bottom. He had them all fished up, by divers, at a vast 
expense, and brought to London : not knowing that Haydon, Fuseli, 
and Canova, and all good heads in all the world, were to be his 
applauders. In the same spirit were the excavation and research by 
Sir Charles Fellowes, for the Xanthian monument; and of Layard, 
for his Nineveh sculptures. 

The nation sits in the immense city they have builded, a London 
extended into every man's mind, though he live in Van Dieman's 
Land or Capetown. Faithful performance of what is undertaken to 
be performed, they honor in themselves, and exact in others, as cer- 
tificate of equality with themselves. The modern world is theirs. 
They have made and make it day by day. The commercial relations 
of the world are so intimately drawn to London, that every dollar 
on earth contributes to the strength of the English government. 
And if all the wealth in the planet should perish by war or deluge, 
they know themselves competent to replace it. 

They have approved their Saxon blood, by their sea-going qual- 
ities; their descent from Odin's smiths, by their hereditary skill in 
working in iron; their British birth, by husbandry and immense 
wheat harvests; and justified their occupancy of the centre of habit- 
able land, by their supreme ability and cosmopolitan spirit. They 
have tilled, builded, forged, spun, and woven. They have made the 
island a thoroughfare; and London a shop, a law-court, a record- 
office, and scientific bureau, inviting to strangers; a sanctuary to 
refugees of every political and religious opinion; and such a city, 
that almost every active man, in any nation, finds himself, at one 
time or other, forced to visit it. 

In every path of practical activity, they have gone even with the 
best. There is no secret of war, in which they have not shown 



362 ENGLISH TRAITS 

mastery. The steam-chamber of Watt, the locomotive of Stephenson, 
the cotton-mule of Roberts, perform the labor of the world. There 
is no department of literature, of science, or of useful art, in which 
they have not produced a first-rate book. It is England, whose 
opinion is waited for on the merit of a new invention, an improved 
science. And in the complications of the trade and politics of their 
vast empire, they have been equal to every exigency, with counsel 
and with conduct. Is it their luck, or is it in the chambers of their 
brain, — it is their commercial advantage, that whatever light appears 
in better method or happy invention, breaks out in their race. They 
are a family to which a destiny attaches, and the Banshee has sworn 
that a male heir shall never be wanting. They have a wealth of men 
to fill important posts, and the vigilance of party criticism insures the 
selection of a competent person. 

A proof of the energy of the British people, is the highly artificial 
construction of the whole fabric. The climate and geography, I 
said, were factitious, as if the hands of man had arranged the 
conditions. The same character pervades the whole kingdom. Bacon 
said, "Rome was a state not subject to paradoxes;" but England sub- 
sists by antagonisms and contradictions. The foundations of its 
greatness are the rolling waves; and, from first to last, it is a museum 
of anomalies. This foggy and rainy country furnishes the world with 
astronomical observations. Its short rivers do not afford water-p)ower, 
but the land shakes under the thunder of the mills. There is no 
gold mine of any importance, but there is more gold in England 
than in all other countries. It is too far north for the culture of 
the vine, but the wines of all countries are in its docks. The French 
Comte de Lauraguais said, "No fruit ripens in England but a baked 
apple;" but oranges and pine-apples are as cheap in London as in 
the Mediterranean. The Mark-Lane Express or the Custom House 
Returns bear out to the letter the vaunt of Pope, 

"Let India boast her palms, nor envy we 
The weeping amber nor the spicy tree, 
While, by our oaks those precious loads arc borne, 
And realms commanded which those trees adorn." 

The native cattle are extinct, but the island is full of artificial breeds. 
The agriculturist Bakewell created sheep and cows and horses to 



ABILITY 363 

order, and breeds in which everything was omitted but what is 
economical. The cow is sacrificed to her bag, the ox to his sirloin. 
Stall-feeding makes sperm-mills of the cattle, and converts the stable 
to a chemical factory. The rivers, lakes, and ponds, too much fished, 
or obstructed by factories, are artificially filled with the eggs of 
salmon, turbot, and herring. 

Chat Moss and the fens of Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire are 
unhealthy and too barren to pay rent. By cylindrical tiles, and gutta- 
percha tubes, five millions of acres of bad land have been drained 
and put on equality with the best, for rape-culture and grass. The 
climate too, which was already believed to have become milder and 
drier by the enormous consumption of coal, is so far reached by this 
new action, that fogs and storms are said to disappear. In due course, 
all England will be drained, and rise a second time out of the waters. 
The latest step was to call in the aid of steam to agriculture. Steam 
is almost an Englishman. I do not know but they will send him 
to Parliament next, to make laws. He weaves, forges, saws, pounds, 
fans, and now he must pump, grind, dig, and plough for the farmer. 
The markets created by the manufacturing population have erected 
agriculture into a great thriving and spending industry. The value 
of the houses in Britain is equal to the value of the soil. Artificial 
aids of all kinds are cheaper than the natural resources. No man 
can afford to walk, when the parliamentary-train carries him for a 
penny a mile. Gas-burners are cheapjer than daylight in numberless 
floors in the cities. All the houses in London buy their water. The 
English trade does not exist for the exportation of native produas, 
but on its manufactures, or the making well everything which is ill 
made elsewhere. They make ponchos for the Mexican, bandannas 
for the Hindoo, ginseng for the Chinese, beads for the Indian, laces 
for the Flemings, telescopes for astronomers, cannons for kings. 

The Board of Trade caused the best models of Greece and Italy 
to be placed within the reach of every manufacturing population. 
They caused to be translated from foreign languages and illustrated 
by elaborate drawings, the most approved works of Munich, Berlin, 
and Paris. They have ransacked Italy to find new forms, to add a 
grace to the products of their looms, their potteries, and their found- 
ries.' * See Memorial of H. Greeoough, p. 66. New York, 1853. 



364 ENGLISH TRAITS 

The nearer we look, the more artificial is their social system. 
Their law is a network of fictions. Their property, a scrip or cer- 
tificate of right to interest on money that no man ever saw. Their 
social classes are made by statute. Their ratios of power and represen- 
tation are historical and legal. The last Reform bill took away 
political power from a mound, a ruin, and a stone-wall, whilst Bir- 
mingham and Manchester, whose mills paid for the wars of Europe, 
had no representative. Purity in the elective Parliament is secured 
by the purchase of seats.* Foreign power is kept by armed colonies; 
power at home, by a standing army of police. The pauper lives better 
than the free laborer; the thief better than the pauper; and the 
transported felon better than the one under imprisonment. The 
crimes are factitious, as smuggling, poaching, non<onformity, her- 
esy, and treason. Better, they say in England, kill a man than a hare. 
The sovereignty of the seas is maintained by the impressment of 
seamen. "The impressment of seamen," said Lord Eldon, "is the 
life of our navy." Solvency is maintained by means of the national 
debt, on the principle, "If you will not lend me the money, how can 
I pay you?" For the administration of justice. Sir Samuel Romilly's 
expedient for clearing the arrears of business in Chancery, was, the 
Chancellor's staying away entirely from his court. Their system of 
education is factitious. The Universities galvanize dead languages 
into a semblance of life. Their church is artificial. The manners and 
customs of society are artificial; — made up men with made up man- 
ners; — and thus, the whole is Birminghamized, and we have a nation 
whose existence is a work of art; — a cold, barren, almost arctic isle, 
being made the most fruitful, luxurious, and imperial land in the 
whole earth. 

Man in England submits to be a product of political economy. 
On a bleak moor, a mill is built, a banking-house is opened, and men 
come in, as water in a sluice-way, and towns and cities rise. Man is 
made as a Birmingham button. The rapid doubling of the popula- 
tion dates from Watt's steam-engine. A landlord, who owns a prov- 
ince, says, "The tenantry are unprofitable; let me have sheep." He 
unroofs the houses, and ships the population to America. The nation 

*Sir S. Romilly, purest of Enf;lish patriots, decided that the only independent mode 
of entering Parliament was to buy a seat, and be bought Horsham. 



ABILITY 365 

is accustomed to the instantaneous creation of wealth. It is the 
maxim of their economists, "that the greater part in value of the 
wealth now existing in England has been produced by human hands 
within the last twelve months." Meantime three or four days' rain 
will reduce hundreds to starving in London. 

One secret of their power is their mutual good understanding. 
Not only good minds are born among them, but, all the people have 
good minds. Every nation has yielded some good wit, if, as has 
chanced to many tribes, only one. But the intellectual organization 
of the English admits a communicableness of knowledge and ideas 
among them all. An electric touch by any of their national ideas, 
melts them into one family, and brings the hoards of f)Ower which 
their individuality is always hiving, into use and play for all. Is it 
the smallness of the country, or is it the pride and affection of 
race, — they have solidarity, or responsibleness, and trust in each 
other. 

Their minds, like wool, admit of a dye which is more lasting than 
the cloth. They embrace their cause with more tenacity than their 
life. Though not military, yet every common subject by the poll is 
fit to make a soldier of. These private reserved mute family-men 
can adopt a public end with all their heat, and this strength of 
affection makes the romance of their heroes. The difference of rank 
does not divide the national heart. The Danish poet Ohlenschlager 
complains that who writes in Danish writes to two hundred readers. 
In Germany, there is one speech for the learned, and another for the 
masses, to that extent that, it is said, no sentiment or phrase from 
the works of any great German writer is ever heard among the lower 
classes. But in England, the language of the noble is the language of 
the poor. In Parliament, in pulpits, in theatres, when the speakers 
rise to thought and passion, the language becomes idiomatic; the 
people in the street best understand the best words. And their 
language seems drawn from the Bible, the common law, and the 
works of Shakspeare, Bacon, Milton, Pope, Young, Cowper, Burns, 
and Scott. The island has produced two or three of the greatest 
men that ever existed, but they were not solitary in their own time. 
Men quickly embodied what Newton found out, in Greenwich ob- 
servatories, and practical navigation. The boys know all that Hutton 



366 ENGLISH TRAITS 

knew of strata, or Dalton of atoms, or Harvey of blood-vessels; and 
these studies, once dangerous, are in fashion. So what is invented 
or known in agriculture, or in trade, or in war, or in art, or in litera- 
ture, and antiquities. A great ability, not amassed on a few giants, 
but poured into the general mind, so that each of them could at a 
pinch stand in the shoes of the other; and they are more bound in 
character, than differenced in ability or in rank. The laborer is a 
possible lord. The lord is a possible basket-maker. Every man 
carries the English system in his brain, knows what is confided to 
him, and does therein the best he can. The chancellor carries Eng- 
land on his mace, the midshipman at the point of his dirk, the smith 
on his hammer, the cook in the bowl of his spoon; the postilion 
cracks his whip for England, and the sailor times his oars to "God 
save the King!" The very felons have their pride in each other's 
English stanchness. In politics and in war, they hold together as by 
hooks of steel. The charm in Nelson's history is the unselfish great- 
ness; the assurance of being supported to the uttermost by those 
whom he suppxjrts to the uttermost. Whilst they are some ages 
ahead of the rest of the world in the art of living; whilst in some 
directions they do not represent the modern spirit, but constitute it, 
— this vanguard of civility and power they coldly hold, marching in 
phalanx, lock-step, foot after foot, file after file of heroes, ten thou- 
sand deep. 

CHAPTER VI 

MANNERS 

I FIND the Englishman to be him of all men who stands firmest 
in his shoes. They have in themselves what they value in their horses, 
mettle and bottom. On the day of my arrival at Liverpool, a gentle- 
man, in describing to me the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, happened 
to say, "Lord Clarendon has pluck like a cock, and will fight till 
he dies;" and what I heard first I heard last, and the one thing the 
English value is pluck. The cabmen have it; the merchants have 
it; the bishops have it; the women have it; the journals have it; the 
Times newspaper, they say, is the pluckiest thing in England, and 
Sydney Smith had made it a proverb that litde Lord John Russell, 



MANNERS 367 

the minister, would take the command of the Channel fleet to- 
morrow. 

They require you to dare to be of your own opinion, and they 
hate the practical cowards who cannot in affairs answer direcdy 
yes or no. They dare to displease, nay, they will let you break all 
the commandments, if you do it natively, and with spirit. You must 
be somebody; then you may do this or that, as you will. 

Machinery has been applied to all work, and carried to such per- 
fection, that little is left for the men but to mind the engines and 
feed the furnaces. But the machines require punctual service, and, 
as they never tire, they prove too much for their tenders. Mines, 
forges, mills, breweries, railroads, steam-pump, steam-plough, drill 
of regiments, drill of police, rule of court, and shop-rule have 
operated to give a mechanical regularity to all the habit and action 
of men. A terrible machine has possessed itself of the ground, the 
air, the men and women, and hardly even thought is free. 

The mechanical might and organization requires in the people 
constitution and answering spirits: and he who goes among them 
must have some weight of metal. At last, you take your hint from 
the fury of life you find, and say, one thing is plain, this is no country 
for fainthearted people: don't creep about diffidendy; make up your 
mind; take your own course, and you shall find respect and fur- 
therance. 

It requires, men say, a good constitution to travel in Spain. I say 
as much of England, for other cause, simply on account of the vigor 
and brawn of the people. Nothing but the most serious business 
could give one any counterweight to these Baresarks, though they 
were only to order eggs and muffins for their breakfast. The Eng- 
Ushman speaks with all his body. His elocution is stomachic, — as 
the American's is labial. The Englishman is very petulant and pre- 
cise about his accommodation at inns, and on the roads; a quiddle 
about his toast and his chop, and every sf>ecies of convenience, and 
loud and pungent in his expressions of impatience at any neglect. 
His vivacity betrays itself, at all points, in his manners, in his respira- 
tion, and the inarticulate noises he makes in clearing the throat; — 
all significant of burly strength. He has stamina; he can take the 
initiative in emergencies. He has that aplomb, which results from a 



368 ENGLISH TRAITS 

good adjustment of the moral and physical nature, and the obedience 
of all the fxjwers to the will; as if the axes of his eyes were united to 
his backbone, and only moved with the trunk. 

This vigor appears in the incuriosity, and stony neglect, each of 
every other. Each man walks, eats, drinks, shaves, dresses, gesticu- 
lates, and, in every manner, acts and suffers without reference to 
the bystanders, in his own fashion, only careful not to interfere 
with them, or annoy them; not that he is trained to neglect the eyes 
of his neighbors, — he is really occupied with his own affair, and 
does not think of them. Every man in this polished country consults 
only his convenience, as much as a solitary pioneer in Wisconsin. I 
know not where any personal eccentricity is so freely allowed, and 
no man gives himself any concern with it. An Englishman walks 
in a jX)uring rain, swinging his closed umbrella like a walking-stick; 
wears a wig, or a shawl, or a saddle, or stands on his head, and no 
remark is made. And as he has been doing this for several genera- 
tions, it is now in the blood. 

In short, every one of these islanders is an island himself, safe, 
tranquil, incommunicable. In a company of strangers, you would 
think him deaf; his eyes never wander from his table and news- 
paper. He is never betrayed into any curiosity or unbecoming 
emotion. They have all been trained in one severe school of man- 
ners, and never put of? the harness. He does not give his hand. 
He does not let you meet his eye. It is almost an affront to look a 
man in the face, without being introduced. In mixed or in select 
companies they do not introduce persons; so that a presentation is 
a circumstance as valid as a contract. Introductions are sacraments. 
He withholds his name. At the hotel, he is hardly willing to whisper 
it to the clerk at the book-office. If he give you his private address 
on a card, it is like an avowal of friendship; and his bearing, on 
being introduced, is cold, even though he is seeking your acquaint- 
ance, and is studying how he shall serve you. 

It was an odd proof of this impressive energy that, in my lectures, 
I hesitated to read and threw out for its impertinence many a dis- 
paraging phrase, which I had been accustomed to spin, about poor, 
thin, unable mortals; — so much had the fine physique and the per- 
sonal vigor of this robust race worked on my imagination. 



MANNERS 369 

I happened to arrive in England at the moment of a commercial 
crisis. But it was evident that, let who will fail, England will not. 
These people have sat here a thousand years, and here will continue 
to sit. They will not break up, or arrive at any desperate revolution, 
like their neighbors; for they have as much energy, as much conti- 
nence of character as they ever had. The power and possession 
which surround them are their own creation, and they exert the 
same commanding industry at this moment. 

They are positive, methodical, cleanly, and formal, loving routine, 
and conventional ways; loving truth and religion, to be sure, but 
inexorable on points of form. All the world praises the comfort and 
private appointments of an English inn, and of English households. 
You are sure of neatness and of personal decorum. A Frenchman 
may possibly be clean; an Englishman is conscientiously clean. A 
certain order and complete propriety is found in his dress and in his 
belongings. 

Born in a harsh and wet climate, which keeps him in doors when- 
ever he is at rest, and being of an affectionate and loyal temper, he 
dearly loves his house. If he is rich, he buys a demesne and builds 
a hall; if he is in middle condition, he spares no expense on his 
house. Without, it is all planted: within, it is wainscoted, carved, 
curtained, hung with pictures, and filled with good furniture. 'Tis 
a passion which survives all others, to deck and improve it. Hither 
he brings all that is rare and costly, and with the national tendency 
to sit fast in the same spot for many generations, it comes to be, in 
the course of time, a museum of heirlooms, gifts, and trophies of the 
adventures and exploits of the family. He is very fond of silver 
plate, and, though he have no gallery of portraits of his ancestors, 
he has of their punch-bowls and porringers. Incredible amounts of 
plate are found in good houses, and the poorest have some spoon or 
saucepan, gift of a godmother, saved out of better times. 

An English family consists of a few persons, who, from youth to 
age, are found revolving within a few feet of each other, as if tied 
by some invisible ligature, tense as that cartilage which we have 
seen attaching the two Siamese. England produces under favorable 
conditions of ease and culture the finest women in the world. And, 
as the men are affectionate and true-hearted, the women inspire and 



370 ENGLISH TRAITS 

refine them. Nothing can be more delicate without being fantastical, 
nothing more firm and based in nature and sentiment, than the 
courtship and mutual carriage of the sexes. The song of 1596 says, 
"The wife of every Englishman is counted blest." The sentiment 
of Imogen in Cymbeline is copied from English nature; and not 
less the Portia of Brutus, the Kate Percy, and the Desdemona. The 
romance does not exceed the height of noble passion in Mrs. Lucy 
Hutchinson, or in Lady Russell, or even as one discerns through the 
plain prose of Pepys's Diary, the sacred habit of an English wife. 
Sir Samuel Romilly could not bear the death of his wife. Every 
class has its noble and tender examples. 

Domesticity is the taproot which enables the nation to branch 
wide and high. The motive and end of their trade and empire is to 
guard the independence and privacy of their homes. Nothing so 
much marks their manners as the concentration on their household 
ties. This domesticity is carried into court and camp. Wellington 
governed India and Spain and his own troops, and fought batdes 
like a good family-man, paid his debts, and, though general of an 
army in Spain, could not stir abroad for fear of public creditors. This 
taste for house and parish merits has of course its doting and foolish 
side. Mr. Cobbett attributes the huge popularity of Perceval, prime 
minister in 1810, to the fact that he was wont to go to church, every 
Sunday, with a large quarto gilt prayer-book under one arm, his 
wife hanging on the other, and followed by a long brood of children. 

They keep their old customs, costumes, and pomps, their wig and 
mace, sceptre and crown. The Middle Ages still lurk in the streets 
of London. The Knights of the Bath take oath to defend injured 
ladies; the gold-stick-in-waiting survives. They repeated the cere- 
monies of the eleventh century in the coronation of the present 
Queen. A hereditary tenure is natural to them. Offices, farms, trades, 
and traditions descend so. Their leases run for a hundred and a 
thousand years. Terms of service and partnership are lifelong, or 
are inherited. "Holdship has been with me," said Lord Eldon, 
"eight-and-twenty years, knows all my business and books." Antiq- 
uity of usage is sanction enough. Wordsworth says of the small 
freeholders of Westmoreland, "Many of these humble sons of the 
hills had a consciousness that the land which they tilled had for 



MANNERS 371 

more than five hundred years been possessed by men of the same 
name and blood." The ship<arpenter in the public yards, my lord's 
gardener and porter, have been there for more than a hundred years, 
grandfather, father, and son. 

The English power resides also in their dislike of change. They 
have difficulty in bringing their reason to act, and on all occasions 
use their memory first. As soon as they have rid themselves of some 
grievance, and settled the better practice, they make haste to fix it as 
a finaUty, and never wish to hear of alteration more. 

Every Englishman is an embryonic chancellor: his instinct is to 
search for a precedent. The favorite phrase of their law is, "a custom 
whereof the memory of man runneth not back to the contrary." The 
barons say, "Nolumus mutari;" and the cockneys stifle the curiosity 
of the foreigner on the reason of any practice, with "Lord, sir, it was 
always so." They hate innovation. Bacon told them. Time was the 
right reformer; Chatham, that "confidence was a plant of slow 
growth;" Canning, to "advance with the times;" and Wellington, 
that "habit was ten times nature." All their statesmen learn the 
irresistibility of the tide of custom and have invented many fine 
phrases to cover this slowness of perception, and prehensility of tail. 

A seashell should be the crest of England, not only because it 
represents a power built on the waves, but also the hard finish of the 
men. The Englishman is finished like a cowry or a murex. After 
the spire and the spines are formed, or, with the formation, a juice 
exudes, and a hard enamel varnishes every part. The keeping of 
the proprieties is as indispensable as clean linen. No merit quite 
countervails the want of this, whilst this sometimes stands in Ueu of 
all. " 'Tis in bad taste" is the most formidable word an Englishman 
can pronounce. But this japan costs them dear. There is a prose in 
certain Englishmen, which exceeds in wooden deadness all rivalry 
with other countrymen. There is a knell in the conceit and exter- 
nality of their voice, which seems to say. Leave all hope behind. In 
this Gibraltar of propriety mediocrity gets intrenched, and consol- 
idated, and founded in adamant. An Englishman of fashion is like 
one of those souvenirs, bound in gold vellum, enriched with delicate 
engravings, on thick hot-pressed paper, fit for the hands of ladies and 
princes, but with nothing in it worth reading or remembering. 



372 ENGLISH TRAITS 

A severe decorum rules the court and the cottage. When Thal- 
berg, the pianist, was one evening performing before the Queen, at 
Windsor, in a private party, the Queen accompanied him with her 
voice. The circumstance took air, and all England shuddered from 
sea to sea. The indecorum was never repeated. Cold, repressive 
manners prevail. No enthusiasm is permitted, except at the opera. 
They avoid everything marked. They require a tone of voice that 
excites no attention in the room. Sir Philip Sidney is one of the 
patron saints of England, of whom Wotton said, "His wit was the 
measure of congruity." 

Pretension and vaporing are once for all distasteful. They keep to 
the other extreme of low tone in dress and manners. They avoid 
pretension, and go right to the heart of the thing. They hate non- 
sense, sentimentaHsm, and high-flown expression; they use a studied 
plainness. Even Brummel, their fop, was marked by the severest 
simplicity in dress. They value themselves on the absence of every- 
thing theatrical in the public business, and on conciseness and going 
to the point, in private affairs. 

In an aristocratical country like England, not the Trial by Jury, 
but the dinner, is the capital institution. It is the mode of doing 
honor to a stranger, to invite him to eat, — and has been for many 
hundred years. "And they think," says the Venetian traveller of 
1500, "no greater honor can be conferred or received than to invite 
others to eat with them, or to be invited themselves, and they would 
sooner give five or six ducats to provide an entertainment for a 
person, than a groat to assist him in any distress."' It is reserved to 
the end of the day, the family-hour being generally six, in London, 
and, if any company is exjjected, one or two hours later. Every one 
dresses for dinner, in his own house, or in another man's. The guests 
are expected to arrive within half an hour of the time fixed by card 
of invitation, and nothing but death or mutilation is permitted to 
detain them. The English dinner is precisely the model on which 
our own are constructed in the Atlantic cities. The company sit one 
or two hours before the ladies leave the table. The gentlemen remain 
over their wine an hour longer, and rejoin the ladies in the drawing- 
room, and take coffee. The dress-dinner generates a talent of 
'"Relatioa of England." Printed by the Camden Society. 



TRUTH 373 

table-talk which reaches great perfection: the stories are so good, 
that one is sure they must have been often told before, to have got 
such happy turns. Hither come all manner of clever projects, bits 
of popular science, of practical invention, of miscellaneous humor; 
political, literary, and personal news; railroads, horses, diamonds, 
agriculture, horticulture, pisciculture, and wine. 

English stories, bon-mots, and the recorded table-talk of their wits, 
are as good as the best of the French. In America we are apt scholars, 
but have not yet attained the same perfection: for the range of 
nations from which London draws, and the steep contrasts of con- 
dition, create the picturesque in society, as broken country makes 
picturesque landscape, whilst our prevailing equality makes a prairie 
tameness: and secondly, because the usage of a dress-dinner every 
day at dark has a tendency to hive and produce to advantage every- 
thing good. Much attrition has worn every sentence into a bullet. 
Also one meets now and then with polished men who know every- 
thing, have tried everything, can do everything, and are quite 
superior to letters and science. What could they not, if only they 
would.? 

CHAPTER VII 

TRUTH 

The Teutonic tribes have a national singleness of heart, which 
contrasts with the Latin races. The German name has a proverbial 
significance of sincerity and honest meaning. The arts bear testi- 
mony to it. The faces of clergy and laity in old sculptures and illu- 
minated missals are charged with earnest belief. Add to this heredi- 
tary rectitude, the punctuality and precise dealing which commerce 
creates, and you have the English truth and credit. The government 
strictly performs its engagements. The subjects do not understand 
trifling on its part. When any breach of promise occurred, in the 
old days of prerogative, it was resented by the people as an intolerable 
grievance. And, in modern times, any slipperiness in the government 
in political faith, or any repudiation or crookedness in matters of 
finance, would bring the whole nation to a committee of inquiry 
and reform. Private men keep their promises, never so trivial. Down 



374 ENGLISH TRAITS 

goes the flying word on the tablets, and is indeUble as Domesday 
Book. 

Their practical power rests on their national sincerity. Veracity 
derives from instinct, and marks superiority in organization. Nature 
has endowed some animals with cunning, as a compensation for 
strength withheld; but it has provoked the malice of all others, as if 
avengers of public wrong. In the nobler kinds, where strength could 
be afforded, her races are loyal to truth, as truth is the foundation of 
the social state. Beasts that make no truce with man, do not break 
faith with each other. 'Tis said that the wolf, who makes a cache 
of his prey, and brings his fellows with him to the spot, if, on 
digging, it is not found, is instantly and unresistingly torn in pieces. 
English veracity seems to result on a sounder animal structure, as if 
they could afford it. They are blunt in saying what they think, 
sparing of promises, and they require plain-dealing of others. We 
will not have to do with a man in a mask. Let us know the truth. 
Draw a straight line, hit whom and where it will. Alfred, whom the 
affection of the nation makes the type of their race, is called by his 
friend Asser, the truth-speaker; Alueredus veridicus. Geoffrey of 
Monmouth says of King Aurelius, uncle of Arthur, that "above all 
things he hated a lie." The Northman Guttorm said to King Olaf, 
"It is royal work to fulfil royal words." The mottoes of their families 
are monitory proverbs, as. Fare jac, — Say, do, — of the Fairfaxes; Say 
and seal, of the house of Fiennes; Vero nil verius, of the De Veres. 
To be king of their word, is their pride. When they unmask cant, 
they say, "The English of this is)' &c.; and to give the lie is the 
extreme insult. The phrase of the lowest of the people is "honor- 
bright," and their vulgar praise, "His word is as good as his bond." 
They hate shuffling and equivocation, and the cause is damaged in 
the public opinion, on which any paltering can be fixed. Even Lord 
Chesterfield, with his French breeding, when he came to define a 
gentleman, declared that truth made his distinction: and nothing 
ever spoken by him would find so hearty a suffrage from his nation. 
The Duke of Wellington, who had the best right to say so, advises 
the French General Kellermann, that he may rely on the parole of 
an English officer. The English, of all classes, value themselves 
on this trait, as distinguishing them from the Ffench, who, in the 



TRUTH 375 

popular belief, are more polite than true. An Englishman under- 
states, avoids the superlative, checks himself in compliments, alleging 
that in the French language one cannot speak without lying. 

They love reality in wealth, power, hospitality, and do not easily 
learn to make a show, and take the world as it goes. They are not 
fond of ornaments, and if they wear them, they must be gems. They 
read gladly in old Fuller, that a lady, in the reign of Elizabeth, 
"would have as patiently digested a lie, as the wearing of false 
stones or pendants of counterfeit pearl." They have the earth- 
hunger, or preference for property in land, which is said to mark the 
Teutonic nations. They build of stone: public and private buildings 
are massive and durable. In comparing their ships' houses and pubUc 
offices with the American, it is commonly said that they spend a 
pound where we spend a dollar. Plain rich clothes, plain rich equip- 
age, plain rich finish throughout their house and belongings, mark 
the English truth. 

They confide in each other, — English believes in English. The 
French feel the superiority of this probity. The EngUshman is not 
springing a trap for his admiration, but is honestly minding his 
business. The Frenchman is vain. Madame de Stael says that the 
English irritated Napoleon, mainly, because they have found out how 
to unite success with honesty. She was not aware how wide an appli- 
cation her foreign readers would give to the remark. Wellington dis- 
covered the ruin of Bonaparte's affairs, by his own probity. He 
augured ill of the empire, as soon as he saw that it was mendacious, 
and lived by war. If war do not bring in its sequel new trade, 
better agriculture and manufactures, but only games, fireworks and 
spectacles, — no prosperity could support it; much less, a nation 
decimated for conscripts, and out of pocket, hke France. So he 
drudged for years on his military works at Lisbon, and from this 
base at last extended his gigantic lines to Waterloo, believing in his 
countrymen and their syllogisms above all the rhodomontade of 
Europe. 

At a St. George's festival, in Montreal, where I happened to be a 
guest, since my return home, I observed that the chairman compli- 
mented his compatriots, by saying, "they confided that wherever 
they met an Englishman, they found a man who would speak the 



376 ENGLISH TRAITS 

truth." And one cannot think this festival fruitless, if, all over the 
world, on the 23d of April, wherever two or three English are 
found, they meet to encourage each other in the nationality of 
veracity. 

In the power of saying rude truth, sometimes in the lion's mouth, 
no men surpass them. On the king's birthday, when each bishop was 
exp)ected to offer the king a purse of gold, Latimer gave Henry VIII. 
a copy of the Vulgate, with a mark at the passage, "Whoremongers 
and adulterers God will judge;" and they so honor stoutness in each 
other, that the king passed it over. They are tenacious of their belief, 
and cannot easily change their opinions to suit the hour. They are 
hke ships with too much head on to come quickly about, nor 
will prosperity or even adversity be allowed to shake their 
habitual view of conduct. Whilst I was in London, M. Guizot 
arrived there on his escape from Paris, in February 1848. Many 
private friends called on him. His name was immediately proposed 
as an honorary member of the Athenxum. M. Guizot was black- 
balled. Certainly, they knew the distinction of his name. But the 
Englishman is not fickle. He had really made up his mind, now for 
years as he read his newspaper, to hate and despise M. Guizot; and 
the altered position of the man as an illustrious exile, and a guest in 
the country, make no difference to him, as they would instantly, to 
an American. 

They require the same adherence, thorough conviction and reality 
in public men. It is the want of character which makes the low 
reputation of the Irish members. "See them," they said, "one 
hundred and twenty-seven all voting like sheep, never proposing 
anything, and all but four voting the income tax," — which was an 
ill-judged concession of the Government, relieving Irish property 
from the burdens charged on English. 

They have a horror of adventurers in or out of Parliament. The 
ruling passion of Englishmen, in these days, is a terror of humbug. 
In the same proportion, they value honesty, stoutness, and adherence 
to your own. They like a man committed to his objects. They hate 
the French, as frivolous; they hate the Irish, as aimless; they hate 
the Germans, as professors. In February, 1848, they said, Look, the 
French king and his party fell for want of a shot; they had not 



TRUTH 377 

conscience to shoot, so entirely was the pith and heart of monarchy 
eaten out." 

They attack their own politicians every day, on the same grounds, 
as adventurers. They love stoutness in standing for your right, in 
declining money or promotion that costs any concession. The bar- 
rister refuses the silk gown of Queen's Counsel, if his junior have it 
one day earlier. Lord Collingwood would not accept his medal for 
victory on 14th February, 1797, if he did not receive one for victory 
on 1st June, 1794; and the long withholden medal was accorded. 
When Castlereagh dissuaded Lord Wellington from going to the 
king's levee, until the unpopular Cintra business had been explained, 
he replied, "You furnish me a reason for going. I will go to this, or 
I will never go to a king's levee." The radical mob at Oxford cried 
after the tory Lord Eldon, "There's old Eldon; cheer him; he never 
ratted." They have given the parliamentary nickname of Trimmers 
to the timeservers, whom English character does not love.^ 

They are very liable in their politics to extraordinary delusions, 
thus, to believe what stands recorded in the gravest books, that the 
movement of 10 April, 1848, was urged or assisted by foreigners: 
which, to be sure, is paralleled by the democratic whimsy in this 
country, which I have noticed to be shared by men sane on other 
points, that the English are at the bottom of the agitation of slavery 
in American politics: and then again to the French popular legends 
on the subject of perfidious Albion. But suspicion will make fools of 
nations as of citizens. 

A slow temperament makes them less rapid and ready than other 

countrymen, and has given occasion to the observation, that English 

wit comes afterwards, — which the French denote as esprit d'escalier. 

This dulness makes their attachment to home, and their adherence 

in all foreign countries to home habits. The Englishman who visits 

Mount Etna, will carry his teakettle to the top. The old Italian 

author of the "Relation of England" (in 1500) says, "I have it on the 

'It is an unlucky moment to remember these sparkles of solitary virtue in the 
face of the honors lately paid in England to the Emperor Louis Napoleon. I am 
sure that no Englishman whom I had the happiness to know consented, when the 
aristocracy and the commons of London cringed like a Neapolitan rabble, before 
a successful thief. But — how to resist one step, though odious, in a linked series of 
state necessities? — Governments must always learn too late, that the use of dishonest 
agents is as ruinous for nations as for single men. 



378 ENGLISH TRAITS 

best information, that, when the war is actually raging most furi- 
ously, they will seek for good eating, and all their other comforts, 
without thinking what harm might befall them." Then their eyes 
seem to be set at the bottom of a tunnel, and they affirm the one small 
fact they know, with the best faith in the world that nothing else 
exists. And, as their own belief in guineas is perfect, they readily, on 
all occasions, apply the pecuniary argument as final. Thus when the 
Rochester rappings began to be heard of in England, a man deposited 
;^ioo in a sealed box in the Dublin Bank, and then advertised in the 
newspap)ers to all somnambulists, mesmerizers, and others, that 
whoever could tell him the number of his note, should have the 
money. He let it lie there six months, the newspapers now and 
then, at his instance, stimulating the attention of the adepts; but none 
could ever tell him; and he said, "Now let me never be bothered 
more with this proven lie." It is told of a good Sir John, that he 
heard a case stated by counsel, and made up his mind; then the 
counsel for the other side taking their turn to speak, he found 
himself so unsettled and perplexed, that he exclaimed, "So help me 
God! I will never listen to evidence again." Any number of delight- 
ful examples of this English stolidity are the anecdotes of Europe. I 
knew a very worthy man, — a magistrate, I believe he was, in the 
town of Derby, — who went to the opera, to see Malibran. In one 
scene, the heroine was to rush across a ruined bridge. Mr. B. arose, 
and mildly yet firmly called the attention of the audience and the 
performers to the fact that, in his judgment, the bridge was unsafe! 
This English stolidity contrasts with French wit and tact. The 
French, it is commonly said, have greatly more influence in Europe 
than the English. What influence the English have is by brute force 
of wealth and power; that of the French by affinity and talent. The 
Italian is subtle, the Spaniard treacherous: tortures, it was said, could 
never wrest from an Egyptian the confession of a secret. None of 
these traits belong to the Englishman. His choler and conceit force 
everything out. Defoe, who knew his countrymen well, says of them, 

"In close intrigue, their faculty's but weak. 
For generally whate'er they know, they speak. 
And often their own counsels undermine 
By mere infirmity without design; 



CHARACTER 379 

From whence, the learned say, it doth proceed, 
That English treasons never can succeed; 
For they're so open-hearted, you may know 
Their own most secret thoughts, and others' too." 

CHAPTER VIII 

CHARACTER 

The English race are reputed morose. I do not know that they 
have sadder brows than their neighbors of northern climates. They 
are sad by comparison with the singing and dancing nations: not 
sadder, but slow and staid, as finding their joys at home. They, too, 
believe that where there is no enjoyment of life, there can be no 
vigor and art in speech or thought: that your merry heart goes all the 
way, your sad one tires in a mile. This trait of gloom has been fixed 
on them by French travellers, who from Froissart, Voltaire, Le Sage, 
Mirabeau, down to the lively journalists of the jeuilletons, have spent 
their wit on the solemnity of their neighbors. The French say, gay 
conversation is unknown in their island. The Englishman finds no 
relief from reflection, except in reflection. When he wishes for 
amusement, he goes to work. His hilarity is like an attack of fever. 
Religion, the theatre, and the reading the books of his country, all 
feed and increase his natural melancholy. The police does not inter- 
fere with public diversions. It thinks itself bound in duty to resjsect 
the pleasures and rare gayety of this inconsolable nation; and their 
well-known courage is entirely attributable to their disgust of life. 

I suppose their gravity of demeanor and their few words have 
obtained this reputation. As compared with the Americans, I think 
them cheerful and contented. Young people in this country are much 
more prone to melancholy. The English have a mild aspect, and a 
ringing, cheerful voice. They are large natured, and not so easily 
amused as the southerners, and are among them as grown people 
among children, requiring war, or trade, or engineering, or science, 
instead of frivolous games. They are proud and private, and, even if 
disposed to recreation, will avoid an open garden. They sported 
sadly; Us s'amusaient tristement, selon la coutume de leur pays, said 
Froissart; and I suppose never nation built their party-walls so thick. 



380 ENGLISH TRAITS 

or their garden-fences so high. Meat and wine produce no effect on 
them: they are just as cold, quiet and composed at the end, as at the 
beginning of dinner. 

The reputation of taciturnity they have enjoyed for six or seven 
hundred years; and a kind of pride in bad public speaking is noted in 
the House of Commons, as if they were willing to show that they 
did not live by their tongues, or thought they spoke well enough if 
they had the tone of gentlemen. In mixed company they shut their 
mouths. A Yorkshire mill-owner told me he had ridden more than 
once all the way from London to Leeds, in the first-class carriage, 
with the same persons, and no word exchanged. The club-houses 
were established to cultivate social habits, and it is rare that more 
than two eat together, and oftenest one eats alone. Was it, then, a 
stroke of humor in the serious Swedenborg, or was it only his pitiless 
logic, that made him shut up the English souls in a heaven by them- 
selves ? 

They are contradictorily described as sour, splenetic, and stubborn, 
— and as mild, sweet, and sensible. The truth is, they have great 
range and variety of character. Commerce sends abroad multitudes 
of different classes. The choleric Welshman, the fervid Scot, the 
bilious resident in the East or West Indies, are wide of the perfect 
behavior of the educated and dignified man of family. So is the burly 
farmer; so is the country 'squire, with his narrow and violent life. 
In every inn is the Commercial-Room, in which "travellers," or bag- 
men who carry patterns, and solicit orders for the manufacturers, 
are wont to be entertained. It easily happens that this class should 
characterize England to the foreigner, who meets them on the road 
and at every public house, whilst the gentry avoid the taverns, or 
seclude themselves whilst in them. 

But these classes are the right English stock, and may fairly show 
the national qualities before yet art and education have dealt with 
them. They are good lovers, good haters, slow but obstinate 
admirers, and in all things very much steeped in their temperament, 
like men hardly awaked from deep sleep which they enjoy. Their 
habits and instincts cleave to nature. They are of the earth, earthy; 
and of the sea, as the sea-kinds, attached to it for what it yields them, 
and not from any sentiment. They are full of coarse strength, rude 



CHARACTER 38 I 

exercise, butcher's meat, and sound sleep; and suspect any poetic 
insinuation, or any hint for the conduct of life which reflects on this 
animal existence, as if somebody were fumbling at the umbilical 
cord, and might stop their supplies. They doubt a man's sound judg- 
ment if he does not eat with appetite, and shake their heads if he is 
particularly chaste. Take them as they come, you shall find in the 
common people a surly indifference, sometimes gruffness and ill 
temper; and, in minds of more power, magazines of inexhaustible 
war, challenging 

"The ruggedest hour that time and spite dare bring 
To frown upon the enraged Northumberland." 

They are headstrong believers and defenders of their opinion, and 
not less resolute in maintaining their whim and perversity. Heze- 
kiah Woodward wrote a book against the Lord's Prayer. And one 
can believe that Burton, the Anatomist of Melancholy, having pre- 
dicted from the stars the hour of his death, slipped the knot himself 
round his own neck, not to falsify his horoscope. 

Their looks bespeak an invincible stoutness: they have extreme 
difficulty to run away, and will die game. Wellington said of the 
young coxcombs of the Life-Guards, delicately brought up, "But the 
puppies fight well;" and Nelson said of his sailors, "They really mind 
shot no more than peas." Of absolute stoutness no nation has more 
or better examples. They are good at storming redoubts, at boarding 
frigates, at dying in the last ditch, or any desperate service which has 
daylight and honor in it; but not, I think, at enduring the rack, or 
any passive obedience, like jumping off a castle-roof at the word of a 
czar. Being both vascular and highly organized, so as to be very 
sensible of pain; and intellectual, so as to see reason and glory in a 
matter. 

Of that constitutional force, which yields the supplies of the day, 
they have the more than enough, the excess which creates courage 
on fortitude, genius in poetry, invention in mechanics, enterprise 
in trade, magnificence in wealth, splendor in ceremonies, petulance 
and projects in youth. The young men have a rude health which 
runs into peccant humors. They drink brandy like water, cannot 
expend their quantities of waste strength on riding, hunting, swim- 



382 ENGLISH TRAITS 

ming, and fencing, and run into absurd frolics with the gravity of 
the Eumenides. They stoutly carry into every nook and corner 
of the earth their turbulent sense; leaving no lie uncontradicted; no 
pretension unexamined. They chew hasheesh; cut themselves with 
poisoned creases; swing their hammock in the boughs of the Bohon 
Upas; taste every poison; buy every secret; at Naples, they put St. 
Januarius's blood in an alembic; they saw a hole into the head of the 
"winking Virgin," to know why she winks; measure with an EngUsh 
footrule every cell of the Inquisition, every Turkish caaba, every 
Holy of hoUes; translate and send to Bentley the arcanum bribed 
and bulUcd away from shuddering Bramins; and measure their own 
strength by the terror they cause. These travellers are of every class, 
the best and the worst; and it may easily happ)en that those of rudest 
behavior are taken notice of and remembered. The Saxon melan- 
choly in the vulgar rich and poor appears as gushes of ill-humor, 
which every check exasperates into sarcasm and vituperation. There 
are multitudes of rude young English who have the self-sufficiency 
and bluntness of their nation, and who, with their disdain of the 
rest of mankind, and with this indigestion and choler, have made the 
English traveller a proverb for uncomfortable and offensive manners. 
It was no bad description of the Briton generically, what was said 
two hundred years ago, of one particular Oxford scholar: "He was 
a very bold man, uttered anything that came into his mind, not only 
among his companions, but in public coffee-houses, and would often 
speak his mind of particular persons then accidentally present, with- 
out examining the company he was in; for which he was often repri- 
manded, and several times threatened to be kicked and beaten." 

The common Englishman is prone to forget a cardinal article in 
the bill of social rights, that every man has a right to his own ears. 
No man can claim to usurp more than a few cubic feet of the audibil- 
ities of a public room, or to put upon the company with the loud 
statement of his crotchets or personalities. 

But it is in the deep traits of race that the fortunes of nations are 
written, and however derived, whether a happier tribe or mixture of 
tribes, the air, or what circumstance, that mixed for them the golden 
mean of temperament, — here exists the best stock in the world, 
broad-fronted, broad-bottomed, best for depth, range, and equability, 



CHARACTER 383 

men of aplomb and reserves, great range and many moods, strong 
instincts, yet apt for culture; war<lass as well as clerks; earls and 
tradesmen; wise minority, as well as foolish majority; abysmal 
temperament, hiding wells of wrath, and glooms on which no sun- 
shine settles; alternated with a common sense and humanity which 
hold them fast to every piece of cheerful duty; making this tempera- 
ment a sea to which all storms are superficial; a race to which their 
fortunes flow, as if they alone had the elastic organization at once 
fine and robust enough for dominion; as if the burly, inexpressive, 
now mute and contumacious, now fierce and sharp-tongued dragon, 
which once made the island light with his fiery breath, had be- 
queathed his ferocity to his conqueror. They hide virtues under 
vices, or the semblance of them. It is the misshapen hairy Scandina- 
vian troll again, who lifts the cart out of the mire, or "threshes the 
corn that ten day-laborers could not end," but it is done in the dark, 
and with muttered maledictions. He is a churl with a soft place in 
his heart, whose speech is a brash of bitter waters, but who loves to 
help you at a pinch. He says no, and serves you, and your thanks 
disgust him. Here was lately a cross-grained miser, odd and ugly, 
resembling in countenance the portrait of Punch, with the laugh left 
out; rich by his own industry; sulking in a lonely house; who never 
gave a dinner to any man, and disdained all courtesies; yet as true a 
worshipper of beauty in form and color as ever existed, and profusely 
pouring over the cold mind of his countrymen creations of grace and 
truth, removing the reproach of sterility from English art, catching 
from their savage climate every fine hint, and importing into their 
galleries every tint and trait of sunnier cities and skies; making an era 
in painting; and, when he saw that the splendor of one of his pictures 
in the Exhibition dimmed his rival's that hung next it, secretly took 
a brush and blackened his own. 

They do not wear their heart in their sleeve for daws to peck at. 
They have that phlegm or staidness, which it is a compliment to dis- 
turb. "Great men," said Aristotle, "are always of a nature originally 
melancholy." 'Tis the habit of a mind which attaches to abstrac- 
tions with a passion which gives vast results. They dare to displease, 
they do not speak to expectation. They like the sayers of No, better 
than the sayers of Yes. Each of them has an opinion which he feels 



384 ENGLISH TRAITS 

it becomes him to express all the more that it differs from yours. 
They are meditating opposition. This gravity is inseparable from 
minds of great resources. 

There is an English hero superior to the French, the German, the 
Italian, or the Greek. When he is brought to the strife with fate, he 
sacrifices a richer material f)ossession, and on more purely meta- 
physical grounds. He is there with his own consent, face to face with 
fortune, which he defies. On deliberate choice, and from grounds 
of character, he has elected his part to live and die for, and dies with 
grandeur. This race has added new elements to humanity, and has 
a deeper root in the world. 

They have great range of scale, from ferocity to exquisite refine- 
ment. With larger scale, they have great retrieving power. After 
running each tendency to an extreme, they try another tack with 
equal heat. More intellectual than other races, when they live with 
other races, they do not take their language, but bestow their own. 
They subsidize other nations, and are not subsidized. They proselyte, 
and are not proselyted. They assimilate other races to themselves, 
and are not assimilated. The English did not calculate the conquest 
of the Indies. It fell to their character. So they administer in different 
parts of the world, the codes of every empire and race; in Canada, 
old French law; in the Mauritius, the Code Napoleon; in the West 
Indies, the edicts of the Spanish Cortes; in the East Indies, the Laws 
of Menu; in the Isle of Man, of the Scandinavian Thing; at the Cape 
of Good Hope, of the old Netherlands; and in the Ionian Islands, the 
Pandects of Justinian. 

They are very conscious of their advantageous position in history. 
England is the lawgiver, the patron, the instructor, the ally. Com- 
pare the tone of the French and of the English press: the first queru- 
lous, captious, sensitive about English opinion; the English press is 
never timorous about French opinion, but arrogant and contemp- 
tuous. 

They are testy and headstrong through an excess of will and bias; 
churlish as men sometimes please to be who do not forget a debt, 
who ask no favors, and who will do what they like with their own. 
With education and intercourse, these asperities wear off, and leave 
the good will pure. If anatomy is reformed according to national 



CHARACTER 385 

tendencies, I suppose, the spleen will hereafter be found in the 
Englishman, not found in the American, and differencing the one 
from the other. I anticipate another anatomical discovery, that this 
organ will be found to be cortical and caducous, that they are super- 
ficially morose, but at last tender-hearted, herein differing from Rome 
and the Latin nations. Nothing savage, nothing mean, resides in the 
English heart. They are subject to panics of credulity and of rage, 
but the temper of the nation, however disturbed, settles itself soon 
and easily, as, in this temperate zone, the sky after whatever storms 
clears again, and serenity is its normal condition. 

A saving stupidity masks and protects their perception as the 
curtain of the eagle's eye. Our swifter Americans, when they first 
deal with English, pronounce them stupid; but, later, do them justice 
as people who wear well, or hide their strength. To understand the 
power of performance that is in their finest wits, in the patient New- 
ton, or in the versatile transcendent poets, or in the Dugdales, 
Gibbons, Hallams, Eldons, and Peels, one should see how English 
day-laborers hold out. High and low, they are of an unctuous 
texture. There is an adipocere in their constitution, as if they had oil 
also for their mental wheels, and could perform vast amounts of 
work without damaging themselves. 

Even the scale of expense on which people live, and to which 
scholars and professional men conform, proves the tension of their 
muscle, when vast numbers are found who can each lift this 
enormous load. I might even add, their daily feasts argue a savage 
vigor of body. 

No nation was ever so rich in able men; "gentlemen," as Charles 
I. said of Strafford, "whose abilities might make a prince rather 
afraid than ashamed in the greatest affairs of state;" men of such 
temper that, like Baron Vere, "had one seen him returning from a 
victory, he would by his silence have suspected that he had lost the 
day; and, had he beheld him in a retreat, he would have collected 
him a conqueror by the cheerfulness of his spirit."^ 

The following passage from the Heimskringla might almost stand 
as a portrait of the modern Englishman: — "Haldor was very stout 
and strong, and remarkably handsome in appearances. King Harold 
' Fuller. Worthies of England. 



386 ENGLISH TRAITS 

gave him this testimony, that he, among all his men, cared least 
about doubtful circumstances, whether they betokened danger or 
pleasure; for, whatever turned up, he was never in higher nor in 
lower spirits, never slept less nor more on account of them, nor ate 
nor drank but according to his custom. Haldor was not a man of 
many words, but short in conversation, told his opinion bluntly, and 
was obstinate and hard : and this could not please the king, who had 
many clever people about him, zealous in his service. Haldor 
remained a short time with the king, and then came to Iceland, 
where he took up his abode in Hiardaholt, and dwelt in that farm 
to a very advanced age."' 

The national temper, in the civil history, is not flashy or whiffling. 
The slow, deep English mass smoulders with fire, which at last sets 
all its borders in flame. The wrath of London is not French wrath, 
but has a long memory, and, in its hottest heat, a register and rule. 

Half their strength they put not forth. They are capable of a 
sublime resolution, and if hereafter the war of races, often predicted, 
and making itself a war of opinions also (a question of desjx)tism 
and liberty coming from Eastern Europe), should menace the 
English civilijation, these sea-kings may take once again to their 
floating castles, and find a new home and a second millennium of 
power in their colonies. 

The stability of England is the security of the modern world. If 
the English race were as mutable as the French, what reliance ? But 
the English stand for Uberty. The conservative, money-loving, lord- 
loving English are yet liberty-loving; and so freedom is safe: for 
they have more personal force than any other people. The nation 
always resist the immoral action of their government. They think 
humanely on the affairs of France, of Turkey, of Poland, of Hungary, 
of Schleswig-Holstein, though overborne by the sutecraft of the 
rulers at last. 

Does the early history of each tribe show the permanent bias, 
which, though not less potent, is masked, as the tribe spreads its 
activity into colonies, commerce, codes, arts, letters? The early 
history shows it, as the musician plays the air which he proceeds to 
conceal in a tempest of variations. In Alfred, in the Northmen, onp 
* Heimskringia, Laing's translation, vol. iii., p. 37. 



CCKKAYNE 387 

may read the genius of the EngUsh society, namely, that private Ufa 
is the place of honor. Glory, a career, and ambition, words familiar 
to the longitude of Paris, are seldom heard in English sp)eech. Nelson 
wrote from their hearts his homely telegraph, "England expects every 
man to do his duty." 

For actual service, for the dignity of a profession, or to appease 
diseased or inflamed talent, the army and navy may be entered (the 
worst boys doing well in the navy) ; and the civil service, in depart- 
ments where serious official work is done; and they hold in esteem 
the barrister engaged in the severer studies of the law. But the calm, 
sound, and most British Briton shrinks from public life, as charla- 
tanism, and respects an economy founded on agriculture, coal-mines, 
manufactures, or trade, which secures an independence through 
the creation of real values. 

They wish neither to command nor obey, but to be kings in their 
own houses. They are intellectual and deeply enjoy literature; they 
like well to have the world served up to them in books, maps, 
models, and every mode of exact information, and, though not 
creators in art, they value its refinement. They are ready for leisure, 
can direct and fill their own day, nor need so much as others the 
constraint of a necessity. But the history of the nation discloses, at 
every turn, this original predilection for private independence, and, 
however this inclination may have been disturbed by the bribes with 
which their vast colonial power has warped men out of orbit, the 
inclination endures, and forms and reforms the laws, letters, manners, 
and occupations. They choose that welfare which is compatible with 
the commonwealth, knowing that such alone is stable; as wise mer- 
chants prefer investments in the three per cents. 

CHAPTER IX 

COCKAYNE 

The English are a nation of humorists. Individual right is pushed 
to the uttermost bound compatible with public order. Property is so 
perfect, that it seems the craft of that race, and not to exist elsewhere. 
The king cannot step on an acre which the peasant refuses to sell. 



388 ENGLISH TRAITS 

A testator endows a dog or a rookery, and Europe cannot interfere 
with his absurdity. Every individual has his particular way of living, 
which he pushes to folly, and the decided sympathy of his com- 
patriots is engaged to back up Mr. Crump's whim by statutes, and 
chancellors, and horse-guards. There is no freak so ridiculous but 
some Englishman has attempted to immortalize by money and law. 
British citizenship is as omnipotent as Roman was. Mr. Cockayne is 
very sensible of this. The pursy man means by freedom the right 
to do as he pleases, and does wrong in order to feel his freedom, 
and makes a conscience of persisting in it. 

He is intensely patriotic, for his country is so small. His confidence 
in the power and performance of his nation makes him provokingly 
incurious about other nations. He dislikes foreigners. Swedenborg, 
who lived much in England, notes "the similitude of minds among 
the English, in consequence of which they contract familiarity with 
friends who are of that nation, and seldom with others: and they 
regard foreigners, as one looking through a telescope from the top 
of a palace regards those who dwell or wander about out of the 
city." A much older traveller, the Venetian who wrote the "Relation 
of England,'" in 1500, says: — "The English are great lovers of them- 
selves, and of everything belonging to them. They think that there 
are no other men than themselves, and no other worlu but England; 
and, whenever they see a handsome foreigner, they say that he 
looks like an Englishman, and it is a great pity he should not be an 
Englishman; and whenever they partake of any delicacy with a 
foreigner, they ask him whether such a thing is made in his country." 
When he adds epithets of praise, his climax is "so English"; and 
when he wishes to pay you the highest compliment, he says, I should 
not know you from an Englishman. France is, by its natural con- 
trast, a kind of black-board on which English character draws its 
own traits in chalk. This arrogance habitually exhibits itself in 
allusions to the French. I suppose that all men of English blood in 
America, Europe, or Asia, have a secret feeling of joy that they are 
not French natives. Mr. Coleridge is said to have given public thanks 
to God, at the close of a lecture, that he had defended him from being 
able to utter a single sentence in the French language. I have found 
'Printed by the Camden Society, 



COCKAYNE 389 

that Englishmen have such a good opinion of England, that the 
ordinary phrases, in all good society, of postponing or disparaging 
one's own things in talking with a stranger are seriously mistaken 
by them for an insuppressible homage to the merits of their nation; 
and the New Yorker or Pennsylvanian who modestly laments the 
disadvantage of a new country, log huts, and savages, is surprised by 
the instant and unfeigned commiseration of the whole company, 
who plainly account all the world out of England a heap of rubbish. 

The same insular Umitation pinches his foreign politics. He sticks 
to his traditions and usages, and, so help him God! he will force his 
island by-laws down the throat of great countries, like India, China, 
Canada, Australia, and not only so, but impose Wapping on the 
Congress of Vienna, and trample down all nationalities with his 
taxed boots. Lord Chatham goes for liberty, and no taxation without 
representation; — for that is British law; but not a hobnail shall they 
dare make in America, but buy their nails in England, — for that 
also is British law; and the fact that British commerce was to be 
re-created by the independence of America took them all by surprise. 

In short, I am afraid that English nature is so rank and aggressive 
as to be a little incompatible with every other. The world is not wide 
enough for two. 

But, beyond this nationality, it must be admitted, the island offers 
a daily worship to the old Norse god Brage, celebrated among our 
Scandinavian forefathers, for his eloquence and majestic air. The 
English have a steady courage, that fits them for great attempts and 
endurance: they have also a petty courage, through which every 
man delights in showing himself for what he is, and in doing what 
he can; so that, in all companies, each of them has too good an opin- 
ion of himself to imitate anybody. He hides no defect of his form, 
features, dress, connection, or birthplace, for he thinks every circum- 
stance belonging to him comes recommended to you. If one of them 
have a bald, or a red, or a green head, or bow legs, or a scar, or mark, 
or a paunch, or a squeaking or a raven voice, he has jjersuaded 
himself that there is something modish and becoming in it, and that 
it sits well on him. 

But nature makes nothing in vain, and this little superfluity of self- 
regard in the Enghsh brain is one of the secrets of their power and 



390 ENGLISH TRAITS 

history. For, it sets every man on being and doing what he really is 
and can. It takes away a dodging, skulking, secondary air, and 
encourages a frank and manly bearing, so that each man makes the 
most of himself, and loses no opportunity for want of pushing. A 
man's personal defects will commonly have with the rest of the 
world precisely that importance which they have to himself. If he 
makes light of them, so will other men. We all find in these a con- 
venient metre of charaaer, since a httle man would be ruined by the 
vexation. I remember a shrewd politician, in one of our western 
cities, told me, "that he had known several successful statesmen made 
by their foible." And another, an ex-governor of Illinois, said to me, 
"If a man knew anything, he would sit in a corner and be modest; 
but he is such an ignorant peacock, that he goes bustling up and 
down, and hits on extraordinary discoveries." 

There is also this benefit in brag, that the speaker is unconsciously 
expressing his own ideal. Humor him by all means, draw it all out, 
and hold him to it. Their culture generally enables the travelled 
English to avoid any ridiculous extremes of this self-pleasing, and to 
give it an agreeable air. Then the natural disposition is fostered by 
the respect which they find entertained in the world for English 
ability. It was said of Louis XIV., that his gait and air were becom- 
ing enough in so great a monarch, yet would have been ridiculous 
in another man; so the prestige of the English name warrants a 
certain confident bearing, which a Frenchman or Belgian could not 
carry. At all events, they feel themselves at liberty to assume the 
most extraordinary tone on the subject of English merits. 

An English lady on the Rhine, hearing a German speaking of her 
party as foreigners, exclaimed, "No, we are not foreigners; we are 
English; it is you that are foreigners." They tell you daily, in Lon- 
don, the story of the Frenchman and Englishman who quarrelled. 
Both were unwilling to fight, but their companions put them up to 
it; at last, it was agreed that they should fight alone, in the dark, 
and with pistols: the candles were put out, and the Englishman, to 
make sure not to hit anybody, fired up the chimney, and brought 
down the Frenchman. They have no curiosity about foreigners, and 
answer any information you may volunteer with "Oh, oh!" until the 
informant makes up his mind that they shall die in their ignorance 



COCKAYNE 391 

for any help he will offer. There are really no limits to this conceit, 
though brighter men among them make painful efforts to be candid. 

The habit of brag runs through all classes, from the Times news- 
paper through politicians and poets, through Wordsworth, Carlyle, 
Mill, and Sydney Smith, down to the boys of Eton. In the gravest 
treatise on political economy, in a philosophical essay, in books of 
science, one is surprised by the most innocent exhibition of unflinch- 
ing nationality. In a tract on Corn, a most amiable and accomplished 
gentleman writes thus: — "Though Britain, according to Bishop 
Berkeley's idea, were surrounded by a wall of brass ten thousand 
cubits in height, still she would as far excel the rest of the globe in 
riches, as she now does, both in this secondary quality, and in the 
more important ones of freedom, virtue, and science."" 

The English dislike the American structure of society, whilst yet 
trade, mills, public education, and chartism are doing what they can 
to create in England the same social condition. America is the 
paradise of the economists; is the favorable exception invariably 
quoted to the rules of ruin; but when he speaks directly of the 
Americans, the islander forgets his philosophy, and remembers his 
disparaging anecdotes. 

But this childish patriotism costs something, like all narrowness. 
The English sway of their colonies has no root of kindness. They 
govern by their arts and abihty; they are more just than kind; and, 
whenever an abatement of their power is felt, they have not concil- 
iated the affection on which to rely. 

Coarse local distinctions, as those of nation, province, or town, are 
useful in the absence of real ones; but we must not insist on these 
accidental lines. Individual traits are always triumphing over 
national ones. There is no fence in metaphysics discriminating 
Greek, or English, or Spanish science, ^sop, and Montaigne, Cer- 
vantes, and Saadi are men of the world; and to wave our own flag at 
the dinner-table or in the University, is to carry the boisterous dulness 
of a fire<lub into a polite circle. Nature and destiny are always on 
the watch for our follies. Nature trips us up when we strut; and 
there are curious examples in history on this very point of national 
pride. 

'William Spence. 



392 ENGLISH TRAITS 

George of Cappadocia, born at Epiphania in Cilicia, was a low 
parasite, who got a lucrative contract to supply the army with bacon. 
A rogue and informer, he got rich, and was forced to run from 
justice. He saved his money, embraced Arianism, collected a library, 
and got promoted by a faction to the episcopal throne of Alexandria. 
When Julian came, a.d. 361, George was dragged to prison; the 
prison was burst open by the mob, and George was lynched, as he 
deserved. And this precious knave became, in good time, Saint 
George of England, patron of chivalry, emblem of victory and 
civility, and the pride of the best blood of the modern world. 

Strange, that the solid truth-speaking Briton should derive from an 
impostor. Strange, that the New World should have no better luck, 
— that broad America must wear the name of a thief. Amerigo Ves- 
pucci, the pickle-dealer at Seville, who went out, in 1499, a subaltern 
with Hojeda, and whose highest naval rank was boatswain's mate 
in an expedition that never sailed, managed in this lying world to 
supplant Columbus, and baptize half the earth with his own dis- 
honest name. Thus nobody can throw stones. We are equally badly 
off in our founders; and the false pickle-dealer is an offset to the 
false bacon-seller. 



CHAPTER X 

WEALTH 

There is no country in which so absolute a homage is paid to 
wealth. In America, there is a touch of shame when a man exhibits 
the evidences of large property, as if, after all, it needed apology. 
But the EngUshman has pure pride in his wealth, and esteems it a 
final certificate. A coarse logic rules throughout all English souls; — 
if you have merit, can you not show it by your good clothes, and coach 
and horses? How can a man be a gentleman without a pipe of wine? 

Haydon says, "There is a fierce resolution to make every man 
live according to the means he possesses." There is a mixture of 
religion in it. They are under the Jewish law, and read with sonorous 
emphasis that their days shall be long in the land, they shall have 
sons and daughters, flocks and herds, wine and oil. In exact proper- 



WEALTH 393 

tion, is the reproach of poverty. They do not wish to be represented 
except by opulent men. An Englishman who has lost his fortune, is 
said to have died of a broken heart. The last term of insult is, "a 
beggar." Nelson said, "The want of fortune is a crime which I 
can never get over." Sydney Smith said, "Poverty is infamous in 
England." And one of their recent writers speaks, in reference to a 
private and scholastic life, of "the grave moral deterioration which 
follows an empty exchequer." You shall find this sentiment, if not 
so frankly put, yet deeply implied, in the novels and romances of the 
present century, and not only in these, but in biography, and in the 
votes of public assemblies, in the tone of the preaching, and in the 
uble-talk. 

I was lately turning over Wood's Athence Oxonienses, and look- 
ing naturally for another standard in a chronicle of the scholars of 
Oxford for two hundred years. But I found the two disgraces in that, 
as in most English books, are, first, disloyalty to Church and State, 
and, second, to be born poor, or to come to poverty. A natural fruit 
of England is the brutal political economy. Malthus finds no cover 
laid at nature's table for the laborer's son. In 1809, the majority in 
Parliament expressed itself by the language of Mr. Fuller in the 
House of Commons, "If you do not like the country, damn you, you 
can leave it." When Sir S. Romilly proposed his bill forbidding 
parish officers to bind children apprentices at a greater distance than 
forty miles from their home. Peel opposed, and Mr. Wortley said, 
"Though in the higher ranks, to cultivate family affections was a 
good thing, 'twas not so among the lower orders. Better take them 
away from those who might deprave them. And it was highly inju- 
rious to trade to stop binding to manufactures, as it must raise the 
price of labor, and of manufactured goods." 

The respect for truth of facts in England is equalled only by the 
respect for wealth. It is at once the pride of art of the Saxon, as he is 
a wealth-maker, and his passion for independence. The Englishman 
believes that every man must take care of himself, and has himself to 
thank, if he do not mend his condition. To pay their debts is their 
national point of honor. From the Exchequer and the East India 
House to the huckster's shop, everything prospers, because it is 
solvent. The British armies are solvent, and pay for what they take. 



394 ENGLISH TRAITS 

The British Empire is solvent; for, in spite of the huge national debt, 
the valuation mounts. During the war from 1789 to 1815, whilst 
they complained that they were taxed within an inch of their lives, 
and, by dint of enormous taxes, were subsidizing all the continent 
against France, the English were growing rich every year faster than 
any people ever grew before. It is their maxim, that the weight of 
taxes must be calculated not by what is taken, but by what is left. 
Solvency is in the ideas and mechanism of an Englishman. The 
Crystal Palace is not considered honest until it pays; — no matter how 
much convenience, beauty, or eclat, it must be self-supporting. They 
are contented with slower steamers, as long as they know the swifter 
boats lose money. They proceed logically by the double method of 
labor and thrift. Every household exhibits an exact economy, and 
nothing of that uncalculated headlong expenditure which families 
use in America. If they cannot pay, they do not buy; for they have 
no presumption of better fortunes next year, as our f)eople have; 
and they say without shame, I cannot afford it. Gentlemen do not 
hesitate to ride in the second<lass cars, or in the second cabin. An 
economist, or a man who can proportion his means and his ambition, 
or bring the year round with expenditure which expresses his char- 
acter, without embarrassing one day of his future, is already a master 
of life, and a freeman. Lx)rd Burleigh writes to his son, "that one 
ought never to devote more than two-thirds of his income to the 
ordinary expenses of life, since the extraordinary will be certain to 
absorb the other third." 

The ambition to create value evokes every kind of ability, govern- 
ment becomes a manufacturing corporation, and every house a mill. 
The headlong bias to utility will let no talent lie in a napkin, — if 
possible, will teach spiders to weave silk stockings. An Englishman, 
while he eats and drinks no more, or not much more, than another 
man, labors three times as many hours in the course of a year as any 
other European; or his life as a workman is three Hves. He works 
fast. Everything in England is at a quick pace. They have rein- 
forced their own productivity by the creation of that marvellous 
machinery which differences this age from any other age. 

'Tis a curious chapter in modern history, the growth of the 
machine-shop. Six hundred years ago Roger Bacon explained the 



WEALTH 395 

precession of the equinoxes, the consequent necessity of the reform 
of the calendar; measured the length of the year, invented gunpow- 
der; and announced (as if looking from his lofty cell, over five 
centuries, into ours), "that machines can be constructed to drive ships 
more rapidly than a whole galley of rowers could do; nor would they 
need anything but a pilot to steer them. Carriages also might be 
constructed to move with an incredible speed, without the aid of any 
animal. Finally, it would not be impossible to make machines which, 
by means of a suit of wings, should fly in the air in the manner of 
birds." But the secret slept with Bacon. The six hundred years have 
not yet fulfilled his words. Two centuries ago the sawing of timber 
was done by hand; the carriage wheels ran on wooden axles; the 
land was tilled by wooden ploughs. And it was to little purpose 
that they had pit-coal, or that looms were improved, unless Watt 
and Stephenson had taught them to work force-pumps and power- 
looms by steam. The great strides were all taken within the last 
hundred years. The Life of Sir Robert Peel, who died the other day, 
the model Englishman, very properly has for a frontispiece a draw- 
ing of the spinning-jenny, which wove the web of his fortunes. Har- 
greaves invented the spinning-jenny, and died in a workhouse. 
Arkwright improved the invention; and the machine dispensed with 
the work of ninety-nine men : that is, one spinner could do as much 
work as one hundred had done before. The loom was improved 
further. But the men would sometimes strike for wages, and com- 
bine against the masters, and, about 1829-30, much fear was felt, lest 
the trade would be drawn away by these interruptions, and the 
emigration of the spinners to Belgium and the United States. Iron 
and steel are very obedient. Whether it were not possible to make 
a spinner that would not rebel, nor mutter, nor scowl, nor stoke for 
wages, nor emigrate? At the solicitation of the masters, after a mob 
and riot at Staley Bridge, Mr. Roberts, of Manchester, undertook to 
create this peaceful fellow, instead of the quarrelsome fellow God 
had made. After a few trials he succeeded, and in 1830 procured a 
patent for his self-acting mule; a creation the delight of mill-owners, 
and "destined," they said, "to restore order among the industrious 
classes;" a machine requiring only a child's hand to piece the brokea 
yarns. As Arkwright had destroyed domestic spinning, so Roberts 



396 ENGLISH TRAITS 

destroyed the factory spinner. The power of machinery in Great 
Britain, in mills, has been computed to be equal to 600,000,000 men, 
one man being able by the aid of steam to do the work which 
required two hundred and fifty men to accomplish fifty years ago. 
The production has been commensurate. England already had this 
laborious race, rich soil, water, wood, coal, iron, and favorable 
climate. Eight hundred years ago commerce had made it rich, and 
it was recorded, "England is the richest of all the northern nations." 
The Norman historians recite that, "in 1067, William carried with 
him into Normandy, from England, more gold and silver than had 
ever before been seen in Gaul." But when to this labor and trade 
and these native resources was added this goblin of steam, with his 
myriad arms, never tired, working night and day everlastingly, the 
amassing of prop)erty has run out of all figures. It makes the motor 
of the last ninety years. The steampipe has added to her population 
and wealth the equivalent of four or five Englands. Forty thousand 
ships are entered in Lloyd's lists. The yield of wheat has gone on 
from 2,000,000 quarters in the time of the Stuarts, to 13,000,000 in 
1854. A thousand million of pounds sterling are said to compose the 
floating money of commerce. In 1848 Lord John Russell stated that 
the people of this country had laid out ^(^ 300,000,000 of capital in 
railways in the last four years. But a better measure than these 
sounding figures is the estimate that there is wealth enough in 
England to support the entire population in idleness for one year. 

The wise, versatile, all-giving machinery makes chisels, roads, loco- 
motives, telegraphs. Whitworth divides a bar to a millionth of an 
inch. Steam twines huge cannon into wreaths, as easily as it braids 
straw, and vies with the volcanic forces which twisted the strata. It 
can clothe shingle mountains with ship-oaks, make sword-blades that 
will cut gun-barrels in two. In Egypt, it can plant forests, and bring 
rain after three thousand years. Already it is ruddering the balloon, 
and the next war will be fought in the air. But another machine 
more potent in England than steam, is the Bank. It votes an issue of 
bills, population is stimulated, and cities rise; it refuses loans, and 
emigration empties the country; trade sinks; revolutions break out; 
kings are dethroned. By these new agents our social system is 
moulded. By dint of steam and of money, war and commerce are 



WEALTH 397 

changed. Nations have lost their old omnipotence; the patriotic tie 
does not hold. Nations are getting obsolete, we go and live where 
we will. Steam has enabled men to choose what law they will live 
under. Money makes place for them. The telegraph is a limp-band 
that will hold the Fenris-wolf of war. For now that a telegraph 
line runs through France and Europe, from London, every message 
it transmits makes stronger by one thread the band which war will 
have to cut. 

The introduction of these elements gives new resources to existing 
proprietors. A sporting duke may fancy that the state depends on the 
House of Lords, but the engineer sees that every stroke of the steam- 
piston gives value to the duke's land, fills it with tenants; doubles, 
quadruples, centuples the duke's capital, and creates new measures 
and new necessities for the culture of his children. Of course, it 
draws the nobility into the comjjetition as stockholders in the mine, 
the canal, the railway, in the application of steam to agriculture, and 
sometimes into trade. But it also introduces large classes into the 
same competition; the old energy of the Norse race arms itself with 
these magnificent powers; new men prove an overmatch for the 
land-owner, and the mill buys out the castle. Scandinavian Thor, 
who once forged his bolts in icy Hecla and built galleys by lonely 
fiords, in England has advanced with the times, has shorn his beard, 
enters Parliament, sits down at a desk in the India House, and lends 
Miollnir to Birmingham for a steam-hammer. 

The creation of wealth in England in the last ninety years is a main 
fact in modern history. The wealth of London determines prices 
all over the globe. All things precious, or useful, or amusing, or 
intoxicating, are sucked into this commerce and floated to London. 
Some English private fortunes reach, and some exceed, a million of 
dollars a year. A hundred thousand palaces adorn the island. All 
that can feed the senses and passions, all that can succor the talent, 
or arm the hands, of the intelligent middle class, who never spare 
in what they buy for their own consumption; all that can aid science, 
gratify taste, or soothe comfort, is in open market. Whatever is 
excellent and beautiful in civil, rural, or ecclesiastic architecture; in 
fountain, garden, or grounds; the English noble crosses sea and land 
to see and to copy at home. The taste and science of thirty peaceful 



398 ENGLISH TRAITS 

generations; the gardens which Evelyn planted; the temples and 
pleasure-houses which Inigo Jones and Christopher Wren built; the 
wood that Gibbons carved; the taste of foreign and domestic artists, 
Shenstone, Pope, Brown, Loudon, Paxton, are in the vast auction, 
and the hereditary principle heaps on the owner of to-day the bene- 
fit of ages of owners. The present possessors are to the full as absolute 
as any of their fathers, in choosing and procuring what they like. 
This comfort and splendor, the breadth of lake and mountain, 
tillage, pasture, and park, sumptuous castle and modern villa, — all 
consist with perfect order. They have no revolutions; no horse- 
guards dictating to the crown; no Parisian poissardes and barricades; 
no mob: but drowsy habitude, daily dress-dinners, wine, and ale, and 
beer, and gin, and sleep. 

With this power of creation, and this passion for independence, 
property has reached an ideal perfection. It is felt and treated as the 
national life-blood. The laws are framed to give property the secur- 
est possible basis, and the provisions to lock and transmit it have 
exercised the cunningest heads in a profession which never admits a 
fool. The rights of property nothing but felony and treason can 
override. The house is a castle which the king cannot enter. The 
Bank is a strong box to which the king has no key. Whatever surly 
sweetness possession can give, is tested in England to the dregs. 
Vested rights are awful things, and absolute possession gives the 
smallest freeholder identity of interest with the duke. High stone 
fences and padlocked garden-gates announce the absolute will of 
the owner to be alone. Every whim of exaggerated egotism is put 
into stone and iron, into silver and gold, with costly deliberation and 
detail. 

An Englishman hears that the Queen Dowager wishes to establish 
some claim to put her park paling a rod forward into his grounds, 
so as to get a coachway, and save her a mile to the avenue. Instantly 
he transforms his paling into stone-masonry, solid as the walls of 
Cuma, and all Europe cannot prevail on him to sell or compound 
for an inch of the land. They delight in a freak as the proof of their 
sovereign freedom. Sir Edward Boynton, at Spic Park, at Caden- 
ham, on a precipice of incomparable prospect, built a house like a 
long barn, which had not a window on the prospect side. Strawberry 



WEALTH 399 

Hill of Horace Walpole, Fonthill Abbey of Mr. Beckford, were 
freaks; and Newstead Abbey became one in the hands of Lord 
Byron. 

But the proudest result of this creation has been the great and 
refined forces it has put at the disposal of the private citizen. In the 
social world, an Englishman to-day has the best lot. He is a king 
in a plain coat. He goes with the most powerful protection, keeps the 
best company, is armed by the best education, is seconded by wealth; 
and his English name and accidents are like a flourish of trumpets 
announcing him. This, with his quiet style of manners, gives him 
the power of a sovereign, without the inconveniences which belong 
to that rank. I must prefer the condition of an English gentleman of 
the better class, to that of any potentate in Europe, — whether for 
travel, or for opportunity of society, or for access to means of science 
or study, or for mere comfort and easy healthy relation to people at 
home. 

Such as we have seen is the wealth of England, a mighty mass, 
and made good in whatever details we care to explore. The cause 
and spring of it is the wealth of temp)erament in the people. The 
wonder of Britain is this plenteous nature. Her worthies are ever 
surrounded by as good men as themselves; each is a captain a 
hundred strong, and that wealth of men is represented again in the 
faculty of each individual, — that he has waste strength, power to 
spare. The English are so rich, and seem to have established a tap- 
root in the bowels of the planet, because they are constitutionally 
fertile and creative. 

But a man must keep an eye on his servants, if he would not have 
them rule him. Man is a shrewd inventor, and is ever taking the 
hint of a new machine from his own structure, adapting some secret 
of his own anatomy in iron, wood, and leather, to some required 
function in the work of the world. But it is found that the machine 
unmans the user. What he gains in making cloth, he loses in general 
power. There should be temperance in making cloth, as well as in 
eating. A man should not be a silk-worm, nor a nation a tent of 
caterpillars. The robust rural Saxon degenerates in the mills to the 
Leicester stockinger, to the imbecile Manchester spinner, — far on the 
way to be spiders and needles. The incessant repetition of the same 



400 ENGLISH TRAITS 

hand-work dwarfs the man, robs him of his strength, wit, and versa- 
tiUty, to make a pin-poHsher, a buckle-maker, or any other specialty; 
and presently, in a change of industry, whole towns are sacrificed like 
ant-hills, when the fashion of shoe-strings supersedes buckles, when 
cotton takes the place of linen, or railways of turnpikes, or when 
commons are inclosed by landlords. Then society is admonished o£ 
the mischief of the division of labor, and that the best political 
economy is care and culture of men; for, in these crises, all are ruined 
except such as are proper individuals, capable of thought, and of new 
choice and the application of their talent to new labor. Then again 
come in new calamities. England is aghast at the disclosure of her 
fraud in the adulteration of food, of drugs, and of almost every 
fabric in her mills and shops; finding that milk will not nourish, nor 
sugar sweeten, nor bread satisfy, nor p)epper bite the tongue, nor glue 
stick. In true England all is false and forged. This too is the reaction 
of machinery, but of the larger machinery of commerce. 'Tis not, 
I suppose, want of probity, so much as the tyranny of trade, which 
necessitates a perpetual competition of underselling, and that again 
a f)erf)etual deterioration of the fabric. 

The machinery has proved, like the balloon, unmanageable, and 
flies away with the aeronaut. Steam, from the first, hissed and 
screamed to warn him; it was dreadful with its explosion, and 
crushed the engineer. The machinist has wrought and watched, 
engineers and firemen without number have been sacrificed in learn- 
ing to tame and guide the monster. But harder still it has proved to 
resist and rule the dragon Money, with his paper wings. Chancellors 
and Boards of Trade, Pitt, Peel, and Robinson, and their Parlia- 
ments, and their whole generation, adopted false principles, and 
went to their graves in the belief that they were enriching the 
country which they were impoverishing. They congratulated each 
other on ruinous expedients. It is rare to find a merchant who knows 
why a crisis occurs in trade, why prices rise or fall, or who knows the 
mischief of paper money. In the culmination of national prosperity, 
in the annexation of countries; building of ships, depots, towns; in 
the influx of tons of gold and silver; amid the chuckle of chancellors 
and financiers, it was found that bread rose to famine prices, that the 
yeoman was forced to sell his cow and pig, his tools, and his acre of 



WEALTH 401 

land; and the dreadful barometer of the poor-rates was touching the 
point of ruin. The poor-rate was sucking in the solvent classes, and 
forcing an exodus of farmers and mechanics. What befalls from 
the violence of financial crisis, befalls daily in the violence of artificial 
legislation. 

Such a wealth has England earned, ever new, bounteous, and aug- 
menting. But the question recurs, does she take the step beyond, 
namely, to the wise use, in view of the supreme wealth of nations? 
We estimate the wisdom of nations by seeing what they did with 
their surplus capital. And, in view of these injuries, some compen- 
sation has been attempted in England. A part of the money earned 
returns to the brain to buy schools, libraries, bishops, astronomers, 
chemists, and artists with; and a part to repair the wrongs of this 
intemperate weaving, by hospitals, savings-banks. Mechanics' Insti- 
tutes, public grounds, and other charities and amenities. But the 
antidotes are frightfully inadequate, and the evil requires a deeper 
cure, which time and a simpler social organization must supply. At 
present, she does not rule her wealth. She is simply a good England, 
but no divinity, or wise and instructed soul. She too is in the stream 
of fate, one victim more in a common catastrophe. 

But being in the fault, she has the misfortune of greatness to be 
held as the chief offender. England must be held responsible for 
the despotism of expense. Her prosperity, the splendor which so 
much manhood and talent and perseverance has thrown upon vulgar 
aims, is the very argument of materialism. Her success strengthens 
the hands of base wealth. Who can propose to youth poverty and 
wisdom, when mean gain has arrived at the conquest of letters and 
arts; when English success has grown out of the very renunciation of 
principles, and the dedication to outsides? A civility of trifles, of 
money and expense, an erudition of sensation takes place, and the 
putting as many impediments as we can, between the man and his 
objects. Hardly the bravest among them have the manliness to resist 
it successfully. Hence, it has come that not the aims of a manly life, 
but the means of meeting a certain ponderous expense, is that which 
is to be considered by a youth in England, emerging from his mi- 
nority. A large family is reckoned a misfortune. And it is a con- 
solation in the death of the young, that a source of expense is closed. 



402 ENGLISH TRAITS 

CHAPTER XI 

ARISTOCRACY 

The feudal character of the English state, now that it is getting 
obsolete, glares a little, in contrast with the democratic tendencies. 
The inequality of power and property shocks republican nerves. 
Palaces, halls, villas, walled parks, all over England, rival the splen- 
dor of royal seats. Many of the halls, like Haddon, or Kedleston, 
are beautiful desolations. The proprietor never saw them, or never 
lived in them. Primogeniture built these sumptuous piles, and, I 
suppose, it is the sentiment of every traveller, as it was mine, 'Twas 
well to come ere these were gone. Primogeniture is a cardinal rule 
of English prop>erty and institutions. Laws, customs, manners, the 
very persons and faces, affirm it. 

The frame of society is aristocratic, the taste of the people is loyal. 
The estates, names, and manners of the nobles flatter the fancy of 
the f)eople, and conciliate the necessary suppwrt. In spite of broken 
faith, stolen charters, and the devastation of society by the profligacy 
of the court, we take sides as we read for the loyal England and 
King Charles's "return to his right" with his Cavaliers, — knowing 
what a heartless trifler he is, and what a crew of God-forsaken rob- 
bers they are. The people of England knew as much. But the fair 
idea of a settled government connecting itself with heraldic names, 
with the written and oral history of Europe, and, at last, with the 
Hebrew religion, and the oldest traditions of the world, was too 
pleasing a vision to be shattered by a few offensive realities, and the 
politics of shoemakers and costermongers. The hopes of the com- 
moners take the same direction with the interest of the patricians. 
Every man who becomes rich buys land, and does what he can to 
fortify the nobility, into which he hopes to rise. The Anglican clergy 
are identified with the aristocracy. Time and law have made the 
joining and moulding perfect in every part. The Cathedrals, the 
Universities, the national music, the popular romances, conspire to 
uphold the heraldry, which the current politics of the day are sap- 
ping. The taste of the people is conservative. They are proud of the 
castles, and of the language and symbol of chivalry. Even the word 



ARISTOCRACY 4O3 

lord is the luckiest style that is used in any language to designate a 
patrician. The superior education and manners of the nobles recom- 
mend them to the country. 

The Norwegian pirate got what he could, and held it for his 
eldest son. The Norman noble, who was the Norwegian pirate bap- 
tized, did likewise. There was this advantage of western over ori- 
ental nobility, that this was recruited from below. English history 
is aristocracy with the doors open. Who has courage and faculty, let 
him come in. Of course, the terms of admission to this club are 
hard and high. The selfishness of the nobles comes in aid of the 
interest of the nation to require signal merit. Piracy and war gave 
place to trade, politics, and letters; the war-lord to the law-lord; the 
law-lord to the merchant and the mill-owner; but the privilege was 
kept, whilst the means of obtaining it were changed. 

The foundations of these families lie deep in Norwegian exploits 
by sea, and Saxon sturdiness on land. All nobility in its beginnings 
was somebody's natural superiority. The things these English have 
done were not done without peril of life, nor without wisdom and 
conduct; and the first hands, it may be presumed, were often chal- 
lenged to show their right to their honors, or yield them to better 
men. "He that will be a head, let him be a bridge," said the Welsh 
chief Benegridran, when he carried all his men over the river on his 
back. "He shall have the book," said the mother of Alfred, "who 
can read it;" and Alfred won it by that title: and I make no doubt 
that feudal tenure was no sinecure, but baron, knight, and tenant 
often had their memories refreshed, in regard to the service by which 
they held their lands. The De Veres, Bohuns, Mowbrays, and Plan- 
tagenets were not addicted to contemplation. The Middle Age 
adorned itself with proofs of manhood and devotion. Of Richard 
Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick, the Emperor told Henry V. that no 
Christian king had such another knight for wisdom, nurture, and 
manhood, and caused him to be named, "Father of curtesie." "Our 
success in France," says the historian, "lived and died with him." ' 

The war-lord earned his honors, and no donation of land was 
large, as long as it brought the duty of protecting it, hour by hour, 
against a terrible enemy. In France and in England, the nobles were, 
' Fuller's Worthies, II., p. 47a. 



404 ENGLISH TRAITS 

down to a late day, born and bred to war: and the duel, which in 
peace still held them to the risks of war, diminished the envy that, 
in trading and studious nations, would else have pried into their 
title. They were looked on as men who played high for a great stake. 

Great estates are not sinecures, if they are to be kept great. A 
creative economy is the fuel of magnificence. In the same line of 
Warwick, the successor next but one to Beauchamp, was the stout 
earl of Henry VI. and Edward IV. Few esteemed themselves in 
the mode, whose heads were not adorned with the black ragged 
staff, his badge. At his house in London, six oxen were daily eaten 
at a breakfast; and every tavern was full of his meat; and who had 
any acquaintance in his family, should have as much boiled and 
roast as he could carry on a long dagger. 

The new age brings new qualities into request, the virtues of 
pirates gave way to those of planters, merchants, senators, and schol- 
ars. Comity, social talent, and fine manners, no doubt, have had 
their part also. I have met somewhere with a historiette, which, 
whether more or less true in its particulars, carries a general truth. 
"How came the Duke of Bedford by his great landed estates? His 
ancestor having travelled on the continent, a lively, pleasant man, 
became the companion of a foreign prince wrecked on the Dorset- 
shire coast, where Mr. Russell Uved. The prince recommended him 
to Henry VIII., who, liking his company, gave him a large share 
of the plundered church lands." 

The pretence is that the noble is of unbroken descent from the 
Norman, and has never worked for eight hundred years. But the 
fact is otherwise. Where is Bohun? where is De Vere? The lawyer, 
the farmer, the silkmercer lies perdu under the coronet, and winks 
to the antiquary to say nothing; especially skilful lawyers, nobody's 
sons, who did some piece of work at a nice moment for government, 
and were rewarded with ermine. 

The national tastes of the English do not lead them to the life of 
the courtier, but to secure the comfort and independence of their 
homes. The aristocracy are marked by their predilection for country- 
life. They are called the county-families. They have often no resi- 
dence in London, and only go thither a short time, during the 
season, to see the opera; but they concentrate the love and labor of 



ARISTOCRACY 405 

many generations on the building, planting, and decoration of their 
homesteads. Some of them are too old and too proud to wear titles, 
or, as Sheridan said to Coke, "disdain to hide their head in a coro- 
net"; and some curious examples are cited to show the stability of 
English families. Their proverb is that, fifty miles from London, a 
family will last a hundred years; at a hundred miles, two hundred 
years; and so on; but I doubt that steam, the enemy of time, as well 
as of space, will disturb these ancient rules. Sir Henry Wotton says 
of the first Duke of Buckingham, "He was born at Brookeby in 
Leicestershire, where his ancestors had chiefly continued about the 
space of four hundred years, rather without obscurity, than with any 
great lustre."' Wraxall says that, in 1781, Lord Surrey, afterwards 
Duke of Norfolk, told him that when the year 1783 should arrive, 
he meant to give a grand festival to all the descendants of the body 
of Jockey of Norfolk, to mark the day when the dukedom should 
have remained three hundred years in their house, since its creation 
by Richard IIL Pepys tells us, in writing of an Earl Oxford, in 1666, 
that the honor had now remained in that name and blood six hun- 
dred years. 

This long descent of families and this cleaving through ages to 
the same spot of ground captivates the imagination. It has too a 
connection with the names of the towns and districts of the country. 

The names are excellent, — an atmosphere of legendary melody 
spread over the land. Older than all epics and histories, which clothe 
a nation, this under-shirt sits close to the body. What history too, 
and what stores of primitive and savage observation, it infolds! 
Cambridge is the bridge of the Cam; Sheffield the field of the river 
Sheaf; Leicester the castra or camp of the Lear or Leir (now Soar) ; 
Rochdale, of the Roch; Exeter or Excester, the castra of the Ex; 
Exmouth, Dartmouth, Sidmouth, Teignmouth, the mouths of the 
Ex, Dart, Sid, and Teign rivers. Waltham is strong town; Raddifle 
is red cliff; and so on: — a sincerity and use in naming very striking 
to an American, whose country is whitewashed all over by unmean- 
ing names, the cast-off clothes of the country from which its emi- 
grants came; or named at a pinch from a psalm-tune. But the 
English are those "barbarians" of Jamblichus, who "are stable in 
*Reliquix Wottonianz, p. 308. 



406 ENGLISH TRAITS 

their manners, and firmly continue to employ the same words, which 
also are dear to the gods." 

'Tis an old sneer, that the Irish peerage drew their names from 
playbooks. The English lords do not call their lands after their own 
names, but call themselves after their lands, as if the man represented 
the country that bred him; and they rightly wear the token of the 
glebe that gave them birth; suggesting that the tie is not cut, but 
that there in London, — the crags of Argyle, the kail of Cornwall, the 
downs of Devon, the iron of Wales, the clays of Stafford, are neither 
forgetting nor forgotten, but know the man who was born by them, 
and who, like the long line of his fathers, has carried that crag, that 
shore, dale, fen, or woodland, in his blood and manners. It has, too, 
the advantage of suggesting responsibleness. A susceptible man could 
not wear a name which represented in a strict sense a city or a county 
of England, without hearing in it a challenge to duty and honor. 

The predilection of the patricians for residence in the country, 
combined with the degree of liberty possessed by the peasant, makes 
the safety of the English hall. Mirabeau wrote prophetically from 
England, in 1784, "If revolution break out in France, I tremble for 
the aristocracy: their chateaux will be reduced to ashes, and their 
blood spilt in torrents. The English tenant would defend his lord 
to the last extremity." The English go to their estates for grandeur. 
The French live at court, and exile themselves to their estates for 
economy. As they do not mean to live with their tenants, they do 
not conciliate them, but wring from them the last sous. Evelyn 
writes from Blois, in 1644, "The wolves are here in such numbers, 
that they often come and take children out of the streets: yet will 
not the Duke, who is sovereign here, permit them to be destroyed." 

In evidence of the wealth amassed by ancient families, the traveller 
is shown the palaces in Piccadilly, Burlington House, Devonshire 
House, Lansdowne House in Berkshire Square, and, lower down in 
the city, a few noble houses which still withstand in all their ampli- 
tude the encroachment of streets. The Duke of Bedford includes 
or included a mile square in the heart of London, where the British 
Museum, once Montague House, now stands, and the land occupied 
by Woburn Square, Bedford Square, Russell Square. The Marquis 
of Westminster built within a few years the series of squares called 



ARISTOCRACY 407 

Belgravia. Stafford House is the noblest palace in London. Nor- 
thumberland House holds its place by Charing Cross. Chesterfield 
House remains in Audley Street. Sion House and Holland House are 
in the suburbs. But most of the historical houses are masked or lost 
in the modern uses to which trade or charity has converted them. 
A multitude of town palaces contain inestimable galleries of art. 

In the country, the size of private estates is more impressive. From 
Barnard Castle I rode on the highway twenty-three miles from High 
Force, a fall of the Tees, towards Darlington, past Raby Castle, 
through the estate of the Duke of Cleveland. The Marquis of Bread- 
albane rides out of his house a hundred miles in a straight hne to the 
sea, on his own propxirty. The Duke of Sutherland owns the county 
of Sutherland, stretching across Scotland from sea to sea. The Duke 
of Devonshire, besides his other estates, owns 96,000 acres in the 
County of Derby. The Duke of Richmond has 40,000 acres at Good- 
wood, and 300,000 at Gordon Casde. The Duke of Norfolk's park 
in Sussex is fifteen miles in circuit. An agriculturist bought lately 
the island of Lewes, in Hebrides, containing 500,000 acres. The 
possessions of the Earl of Lonsdale gave him eight seats in Parlia- 
ment. This is the Heptarchy again: and before the Reform of 1832, 
one hundred and fifty-four persons sent three hundred and seven 
members to Parliament. The borough-mongers governed England. 

These large domains are growing larger. The great estates are 
absorbing the small freeholds. In 1786, the soil of England was 
owned by 250,000 corporations and proprietors; and, in 1822, by 
32,000. These broad estates find room in this narrow island. All 
over England, scattered at short intervals among ship-yards, mills, 
mines, and forges, are the paradises of the nobles, where the livelong 
repose and refinement are heightened by the contrast with the roar 
of industry and necessity, out of which you have stepped aside. 

I was surprised to observe the very small attendance usually in the 
House of Lords. Out of 573 f)eers, on ordinary days, only twenty or 
thirty. Where are they? I asked. "At home on their estates, devoured 
by ennui, or in the Alps, or up the Rhine, in the Harz Mountains, 
or in Egypt, or in India, on the Ghauts." But, with such interests 
at stake, how can these men afford to neglect them? "Oh," replied 
my friend, "why should they work for themselves, when every man 



4o8 ENGLISH TRAITS 

in England works for them, and will suffer before they come to 
harm?" The hardest radical instantly uncovers, and changes his 
tone to a lord. It was remarked, on the loth April, 1848 (the day 
of the Chartist demonstration), that the upper classes were, for the 
first time, actively interesting themselves in their own defence, and 
men of rank were sworn special constables, with the rest. "Besides, 
why need they sit out the debate ? Has not the Duke of Wellington, 
at this moment, their proxies, — the proxies of fifty peers in his 
pocket, to vote for them, if there be an emergency?" 

It is however true, that the existence of the House of Peers as a 
branch of the government entitles them to fill half the Cabinet; and 
their weight of property and station gives them a virtual nomination 
of the other half; whilst they have their share in the subordinate 
offices, as a school of training. This monopoly of political power 
has given them their intellectual and social eminence in Europe. A 
few law lords and a few political lords take the brunt of public 
business. In the army, the nobility fill a large part of the high com- 
missions, and give to these a tone of expense and splendor, and also 
of exclusiveness. They have borne their full share of duty and danger 
in this service; and there are few noble families which have not paid 
in some of their members, the debt of life or limb, in the sacrifices 
of the Russian war. For the rest, the nobility have the lead in mat- 
ters of state, and of expense; in questions of taste, in social usages, 
in convivial and domestic hospitalities. In general, all that is required 
of them is to sit securely, to preside at public meetings, to counte- 
nance charities, and to give the example of that decorum so dear to 
the British heart. 

If one asks, in the critical spirit of the day, what service this class 
have rendered ? — uses appear, or they would have p)erished long ago. 
Some of these are easily enumerated, others more subtle make a part 
of unconscious history. Their institution is one step in the progress 
of society. For a race yields a nobility in some form, however we 
name the lords, as surely as it yields women. 

The English nobles are high-spirited, active, educated men, born 
to wealth and power, who have run through every country, and 
kept in every country the best company, have seen every secret of art 
and nature, and, when men of any ability or ambition, have been 



ARISTOCRACY 4O9 

consulted in the conduct of every important action. You cannot 
wield great agencies without lending yourself to them, and, when 
it happens that the spirit of the earl meets his rank and duties, we 
have the best examples of behavior. Power of any kind readily 
appears in the manners; and beneficent power, le talent de bien ]aire, 
gives a majesty which cannot be concealed or resisted. 

These people seem to gain as much as they lose by their position. 
They survey society as from the top of St. Paul's, and, if they never 
hear plain truth from men, they see the best of everything, in every 
kind, and they see things so grouped and amassed as to infer easily 
the sum and genius, instead of tedious particularities. Their good 
behavior deserves all its fame, and they have that simplicity, and that 
air of repose, which are the finest ornament of greatness. 

The upper classes have only birth, say the people here, and not 
thoughts. Yes, but they have manners, and 'tis wonderful how much 
talent runs into manners: — nowhere and never so much as in Eng- 
land. They have the sense of suf)eriority, the absence of all the 
ambitious effort which disgusts in the aspiring classes, a pure tone 
of thought and feeling, and the power of command, among their 
other luxuries, the presence of the most accomplished men in their 
festive meetings. 

Loyalty is in the English a sub-religion. They wear the laws as 
ornaments, and walk by their faith in their painted May-Fair, as if 
among the forms of gods. The economist of 1855 who asks, of what 
use are the lords? may learn of Franklin to ask, of what use is a 
baby? They have been a social church proper to inspire sentiments 
mutually honoring the lover and the loved. Politeness is the ritual 
of society, as prayers are of the church; a school of manners, and 
a gentle blessing to the age in which it grew. 'Tis a romance adorn- 
ing English life with a larger horizon; a midway heaven, fulfilling 
to their sense their fairy tales and poetry. This, just as far as the 
breeding of the nobleman really made him brave, handsome, ac- 
complished, and great-hearted. 

On general grounds, whatever tends to form manners, or to finish 
men, has a great value. Every one who has tasted the delight of 
friendship, will respect every social guard which our manners can 
establish, tending to secure from the intrusion of frivolous and dis- 



410 ENGLISH TRAITS 

tasteful people. The jealousy of every class to guard itself, is a 
testimony to the reality they have found in life. When a man once 
knows that he has done justice to himself, let him dismiss all terrors 
of aristocracy as superstitions, so far as he is concerned. He who 
keeps the door of a mine, whether of cobalt, or mercury, or nickel, 
or plumbago, securely knows that the world cannot do without him. 
Everybody who is real is open and ready for that which is also real. 

Besides, these are they who make England that strong-box and 
museum it is; who gather and protect works of art, dragged from 
amidst burning cities and revolutionary countries, and brought 
hither out of all the world. I look with respect at houses six, seven, 
eight hundred, or, like Warwick Castle, nine hundred years old. I 
pardoned high park-fences, when I saw that, besides does and 
pheasants, these have preserved Arundel marbles, Townley galleries, 
Howard and Spenserian libraries, Warwick and Portland vases, 
Saxon manuscripts, monastic architectures, millennial trees, and 
breeds of cattle elsewhere extinct. In these manors, after the frenzy 
of war and destruction subsides a little, the antiquary finds the 
frailest Roman jar, or crumbhng Egyptian mummy-case, without 
so much as a new layer of dust, keeping the series of history un- 
broken, and waiting for its interpreter, who is sure to arrive. These 
lords are the treasurers and librarians of mankind, engaged by their 
pride and wealth to this function. 

Yet there were other works for British dukes to do. George 
Loudon, Quintinye, Evelyn, had taught them to make gardens. 
Arthur Young, Bakewell, and Mechi have made them agricultural. 
Scotland was a camp until the day of CuUoden. The Dukes of Athol, 
Sutherland, Buccleugh, and the Marquis of Breadalbane have intro- 
duced the rape-culture, the sheep-farm, wheat, drainage, the planta- 
tion of forests, the artificial replenishment of lakes and ponds with 
fish, the renting of game-preserves. Against the cry of the old ten- 
antry, and the sympathetic cry of the English press, they have rooted 
out and planted anew, and now six millions of f)eople live, and live 
better, on the same land that fed three millions. 

The English barons, in every period, have been brave and great, 
after the estimate and opinion of their times. The grand old halls 
scattered up and down in England are dumb vouchers to the state 



ARISTOCRACY 4I I 

and broad hospitality of their ancient lords. Shakespeare's portraits 
of good duke Humphrey, of Warwick, of Northumberland, of 
Talbot, were drawn in strict consonance with the traditions. A 
sketch of the Earl of Shrewsbury, from the pen of Queen Elizabeth's 
Archbishop Parker;' Lord Herbert Cherbury's autobiography; the 
letters and essays of Sir Philip Sidney; the anecdotes preserved by 
the antiquaries Fuller and Collins; some glimpses at the interiors of 
noble houses, which we owe to Pepys and Evelyn; the details which 
Ben Jonson's masques (performed at Kenilworth, Althorpe, Belvoir, 
and other noble houses) record or suggest; down to Aubrey's pas- 
sages of the life of Hobbes in the house of the Earl of Devon, are 
favorable pictures of a romantic style of manners. Penshurst still 
shines for us, and its Christmas revels, "where logs not burn, but 
men." At Wilton House the "Arcadia" was written, amidst conver- 
sations with Fulke Greville, Lord Brooke, a man of no vulgar mind, 
as his own poems declare him. I must hold Ludlow Castle an 
honest house, for which Milton's "Comus" was written, and the 
company nobly bred which performed it with knowledge and sym- 
pathy. In the roll of nobles are found poets, philosophers, chemists, 
astronomers, also men of solid virtues and of lofty sentiments; often 
they have been the friends and patrons of genius and learning and 
especially of the fine arts; and at this moment almost every great 
house has its sumptuous picture-gallery. 

Of course, there is another side to this gorgeous show. Every 
victory was the defeat of a party only less worthy. Casdes are 
proud things, but 'tis safest to be outside of them. War is a foul 
game, and yet war is not the worst part of aristocratic history. In 
later times, when the baron, educated only for war, with his brains 
paralyzed by his stomach, found himself idle at home, he grew fat 
and wanton, and a sorry brute. Grammont, Pepys, and Evelyn show 
the kennels to which the king and court went in quest of pleasure. 
Prostitutes taken from the theatres were made duchesses, their bas- 
tards dukes and earls. "The young men sat uppermost, the old 
serious lords were out of favor." The discourse that the king's 
companions had with him was "poor and frothy." No man who 
valued his head might do what these pot<ompanions familiarly 
'Dibdiii's Literary Reminucences, vol. i, xiL 



412 ENGLISH TRAITS 

did with the king. In logical sequence of these dignified revels, 
Pepys can tell the beggarly shifts to which the king was reduced, 
who could not find paper at his council table, and "no handkerchers" 
in his wardrobe, "and but three bands to his neck," and the linen- 
draper and the stationer were out of pocket, and refusing to trust 
him, and the baker will not bring bread any longer. Meantime the 
English Channel was swept and London threatened by the Dutch 
fleet, manned, too, by English sailors, who, having been cheated of 
their pay for years by the king, enlisted with the enemy. 

The Selwyn correspondence, in the reign of George III^ discloses 
a rottenness in the aristocracy which threatened to decompose the 
state. The sycophancy and sale of votes and honor for place and 
title; lewdness, gaming, smuggling, bribery, and cheating; the sneer 
at the childish indiscretion of quarrelling with ten thousand a year; 
the want of ideas; the splendor of the titles, and the apathy of the 
nation, are instructive, and make the reader pause and explore the 
firm bounds which confined these vices to a handful of rich men. 
In the reign of the Fourth George things do not seem to have 
mended, and the rotten debauchee let down from a window by an 
inclined plane into his coach to take the air, was a scandal to Europe 
which the ill fame of his queen and of his family did nothing to 
retrieve. 

Under the present reign, the perfect decorum of the Court is 
thought to have put a check on the gross vices of the aristocracy; 
yet gaming, racing, drinking, and mistresses bring them down, and 
the democrat can still gather scandals if he will. Dismal anecdotes 
abound, verifying the gossip of the last generation of dukes served 
by bailiffs, with all their plate in pawn; of great lords living by the 
showing of their houses; and of an old man wheeled in his chair 
from room to room, whilst his chambers are exhibited to the visitor 
for money; of ruined dukes and earls living in exile for debt. The 
historic names of the Buckinghams, Beauforts, Marlboroughs, and 
Hertfords have gained no new lustre, and now and then darker 
scandals break out, ominous as the new chapters added under the 
Orleans dynasty to the "Causes Celebres" in France. Even peers 
who are men of worth and public spirit are overtaken and embar- 
rassed by their vast expense. The respectable Duke of Devonshire, 



ARISTOCRACY 413 

willing to be the Mxcenas and Lucullus of his island, is reported to 
have said that he cannot live at Chatsworth but one month in the 
year. Their many houses eat them up. They cannot sell them, be- 
cause they are entailed. They will not let them for pride's sake, but 
keep them empty, aired, and the grounds mown and dressed, at a 
cost of four or five thousand pounds a year. The spending is for a 
great part in servants, in many houses exceeding a hundred. 

Most of them are only chargeable with idleness, which, because 
it squanders such vast power of benefit, has the mischief of crime. 
"They might be little Providences on earth," said my friend, "and 
they are, for the most part, jockeys and fops." Campbell says, "Ac- 
quaintance with the nobility, I could never keep up. It requires a 
life of idleness, dressing, and attendance on their parties." I suppose, 
too, that a feeUng of self-respect is driving cultivated men out of 
this society, as if the noble were slow to receive the lessons of the 
times, and had not learned to disguise his pride of place. A man of 
wit, who is also one of the celebrities of wealth and fashion, con- 
fessed to his friend that he could not enter their houses without 
being made to feel that they were great lords, and he a low plebeian. 
With the tribe of artistes, including the musical tribe, the patrician 
morgue keeps no terms, but excludes them. When Julia Grisi and 
Mario sang at the houses of the Duke of Wellington and other 
grandees, a cord was stretched between the singer and the company. 

When every noble was a soldier, they were carefully bred to great 
personal prowess. The education of a soldier is a simpler affair than 
that of an earl in the nineteenth century. And this was very seriously 
pursued; they were expert in every species of equitation, to the most 
dangerous practices, and this down to the accession of William of 
Orange. But graver men appear to have trained their sons for civil 
affairs. Elizabeth extended her thought to the future; and Sir Philip 
Sidney in his letter to his brother, and Milton and Evelyn, gave plain 
and hearty counsel. Already, too, the English noble and squire 
were preparing for the career of the country-gentleman, and his 
peaceable expense. They went from city to city, learning receipts 
to make perfumes, sweet powders, pomanders, antidotes, gathering 
seeds, gems, coins, and divers curiosities, preparing for a private life 
thereafter, in which they should take pleasure in these recreations. 



414 ENGLISH TRAITS 

All advantages given to absolve the young patrician from intellec- 
tual laixjr are of course mistaken. "In the university, noblemen are 
exempted from the public exercises for the degree, &c., by which 
they attain a degree called honorary. At the same time, the fees 
they have to pay for matriculation, and on all other occasions, are 
much higher." * Fuller records "the observation of foreigners, that 
Englishmen, by making their children gentlemen, before they are 
men, cause they are so seldom wise men." This cockering justifies 
Dr. Johnson's bitter apology for primogeniture, "that it makes but 
one fool in a family." 

The revolution in society has reached this class. The great powers 
of industrial art have no exclusion of name or blood. The tools 
of our time, namely, steam, ships, printing, money, and pwpular 
education, belong to those who can handle them: and their effect 
has been that advantages once confined to men of family are now 
open to the whole middle class. The road that grandeur levels for 
his coach, toil can travel in his cart. 

This is more manifest every day, but I think it is true throughout 
English history. English history, wisely read, is the vindication of 
the brain of that people. Here, at last, were chmate and condition 
friendly to the working faculty. Who now will work and dare, shall 
rule. This is the charter, or the chartism, which fogs, and seas, and 
rains proclaimed, — that intellect and personal force should make the 
law; that industry and administrative talent should administer; that 
work should wear the crown. I know that not this, but something 
else, is pretended. The fiction with which the noble and the by- 
stander equally please themselves is that the former is of unbroken 
descent from the Norman, and so has never worked for eight 
hundred years. All the families are new, but the name is old, and 
they have made a covenant with their memories not to disturb it. 
But the analysis of the p)eerage and gentry shows the rapid decay 
and extinction of old families, the continual recruiting of these from 
new blood. The doors, though ostentatiously guarded, are really 
open, and hence the power of the bribe. All the barriers to rank 
only whet the thirst, and enhance the prize. "Now," said Nelson, 
when clearing for battle, "a peerage, or Westminster Abbey!" "I 
^Huber. History of English Universities. 



UNIVERSITIES 415 

have no illusion left," said Sydney Smith, "but the Archbishop of 
Canterbury." "The lawyers," said Burke, "are only birds of passage 
in this House of Commons," and then added, with a new figure, 
"they have their best bower anchor in the House of Lords." 

Another stride that has been taken appears in the perishing of 
heraldry. Whilst the privileges of nobility are passing to the middle 
class, the badge is discredited, and the titles of lordship are getting 
musty and cumbersome. I wonder that sensible men have not been 
already impatient of them. They belong, with wigs, powder, and 
scarlet coats, to an earlier age, and may be advantageously consigned, 
with paint and tattoo, to the dignitaries of Australia and Polynesia. 

A multitude of English, educated at the universities, bred into 
their society with manners, ability, and the gifts of fortune, are every 
day confronting the peers on a footing of equality, and outstripping 
them, as often, in the race of honor and influence. That cultivated 
class is large and ever enlarging. It is computed that, with titles and 
without, there are seventy thousand of these people coming and 
going in London, who make up what is called high society. They 
cannot shut their eyes to the fact that an untitled nobility possess all 
the power without the inconveniences that belong to rank, and the 
rich Englishman goes over the world at the present day, drawing 
more than all the advantages which the strongest of his kings could 
command. 



CHAPTER XII 

UNIVERSITIES 

Of British universities, Cambridge has the most illustrious names 
on its list. At the present day, too, it has the advantage of Oxford, 
counting in its alumni a greater number of distinguished scholars. 
I regret that I had but a single day wherein to see King's College 
Chapel, the beautiful lawns and gardens of the colleges, and a few 
of its gownsmen. 

But I availed myself of some repeated invitations to Oxford, where 
I had introductions to Dr. Daubeny, Professor of Botany, and to 
the Regius Professor of Divinity, as well as to a valued friend, a 



4l6 ENGLISH TRAITS 

fellow of Oriel, and went thither on the last day of March, 1848. I 
was the guest of my friend in Oriel, was housed close upon that 
college, and I lived on college hospitalities. 

My new friends showed me their cloisters, the Bodleian Library, 
the Randolph Gallery, Merton Hall, and the rest. I saw several faith- 
ful high-minded young men, some of them in the mood of making 
sacrifices for peace of mind, — a topic, of course, on which I had no 
counsel to offer. Their affectionate and gregarious ways reminded 
me at once of the habits of our Cambridge men, though I imputed 
to these English an advantage in their secure and polished manners. 
The halls are rich with oaken wainscoting and ceiling. The pictures 
of the founders hang from the walls; the tables glitter with plate. 
A youth came forward to the upper table, and pronounced the an- 
cient form of grace before meals, which, I suppose, has been in use 
here for ages, Benedictus benedicat; benedicitur, benedicatur. 

It is a curious proof of the English use and wont, or of their good 
nature, that these young men are locked up every night at nine 
o'clock, and the porter at each hall is required to give the name of 
any belated student who is admitted after that hour. Still more 
descriptive is the fact that out of twelve hundred young men, com- 
prising the most spirited of the aristocracy, a duel has never occurred. 

Oxford is old, even in England, and conservative. Its foundations 
date from Alfred, and even from Arthur, if, as is alleged, the Pheryllt 
of the Druids had a seminary here. In the reign of Edward I., it is 
pretended, here were thirty thousand students; and nineteen most 
noble foundations were then established. Chaucer found it as firm 
as if it had always stood; and it is, in British story, rich with great 
names, the school of the island, and the link of England to the 
learned of Europe. Hither came Erasmus, with delight, in 1497. 
Albericus Gentilis, in 1580, was relieved and maintained by the uni- 
versity. Albert Alaskie, a noble Polonian, Prince of Sirad, who vis- 
ited England to admire the wisdom of Queen Elizabeth, was enter- 
tained with stage-plays in the Refectory of Christ Church, in 1583. 
Isaac Casaubon, coming from Henri Quatre of France, by invita- 
tion of James I., was admitted to Christ's College, in July, 1613. I 
saw the Ashmolean Museum, whither Elias Ashmole, in 1682, sent 
twelve cart-loads of rarities. Here indeed was the Olympia of all 



UNIVERSITIES 417 

Anthony Wood's and Aubrey's games and heroes, and every inch of 
ground has its lustre. For Wood's Athena Oxonienses, or calender 
of the writers of Oxford for two hundred years, is a lively record of 
English manners and merits, and as much a national monument as 
Purchas's Pilgrims or Hansard's Register. On every side, Oxford 
is redolent of age and authority. Its gates shut of themselves against 
modern innovation. It is still governed by the statutes of Archbishop 
Laud. The books in Merton Library are still chained to the wall. 
Here, on August 27, 1660, John Milton's Pro Populo Angltcano 
Defensio and Iconodastes were committed to the flames. I saw the 
school<ourt or quadrangle, where, in 1683, the Convocation caused 
the Leviathan of Thomas Hobbes to be publicly burnt. I do not 
know whether this learned body have yet heard of the declaration 
of American Independence, or whether the Ptolemaic astronomy 
does not still hold its ground against the novelties of Copernicus. 

As many sons, almost so many benefactors. It is usual for a noble- 
man, or indeed for almost every wealthy student, on quitting college, 
to leave behind him some article of plate; and gifts of all values, 
from a hall, or a fellowship, or a library, down to a picture or a 
spoon, are continually accruing, in the course of a century. My 
friend Doctor J. gave me the following anecdote. In Sir Thomas 
Lawrence's collection at London, were the cartoons of Raphael and 
Michel Angelo. This inestimable prize was offered to Oxford Uni- 
versity for seven thousand pounds. The offer was accepted, and 
the committee charged with the affair had collected three thousand 
pounds, when among other friends, they called on Lord Eldon. 
Instead of a hundred pounds, he surprised them by putting down 
his name for three thousand pounds. They told him, they should 
now very easily raise the remainder. "No," he said, "your men 
have probably already contributed all they can spare; I can as well 
give the rest;" and he withdrew his cheque for three thousand, and 
wrote four thousand pounds, I saw the whole collection in April, 
1848. 

In the Bodleian Library, Dr. Bandinel showed me the manuscript 
Plato, of the date of a.d. 896, brought by Dr. Clarke from Egypt; a 
manuscript Virgil, of the same century; the first Bible printed at 
Mentz, (I believe in 1450); and a duplicate of the same, which had 



4l8 ENGLISH TRAITS 

been deficient in about twenty leaves at the end. But one day, being 
in Venice, he bought a room full of books and manuscripts, — every 
scrap and fragment, — for four thousand louis d'ors, and had the 
doors locked and sealed by the consul. On proceeding, afterwards, 
to examine his purchase, he found the twenty deficient pages of his 
Mentz Bible, in perfect order; brought them to Oxford, with the 
rest of his purchase, and placed them in the volume; but has too 
much awe for the Providence that appears in bibliography also, to 
suffer the reunited parts to be re-bound. The oldest building here 
is two hundred years younger than the frail manuscript brought by 
Dr. Clarke from Egypt. No candle or fire is ever lighted in the 
Bodleian. Its catalogue is the standard catalogue on the desk of 
every library in Oxford. In each several college, they underscore in 
red ink on this catalogue the titles of books contained in the library 
of that college, — the theory being that the Bodleian has all books. 
This rich library spent during the last year (1847) for the purchase 
of books ;^i668. 

The logical English train a scholar as they train an engineer. 
Oxford is a Greek factory, as Wilton mills weave carpet, and Shef- 
field grinds steel. They know the use of a tutor, as they know the 
use of a horse; and they draw the greatest amount of benefit out of 
both. The reading men are kept by hard walking, hard riding, and 
measured eating and drinking, at the top of their condition, and 
two days before the examination, do no work, but lounge, ride, or 
run, to be fresh on the college doomsday. Seven years' residence is 
the theoretic period for a master's degree. In point of fact, it has 
long been three years' residence, and four years more of standing. 
This "three years" is about twenty-one months in all.' 

"The whole expense," says Professor Sewel, "of ordinary college 
tuition at Oxford is about sixteen guineas a year." But this plausible 
statement may deceive a reader unacquainted with the fact that the 
principal teaching reUed on is private tuition. And the expenses of 
private tuition are reckoned at from ^50 to ^jo a year, or $1000 
for the whole course of three years and a half. At Cambridge $750 
a year is economical, and $1500 not extravagant.^ 

The number of students and of residents, the dignity of the author- 

' Huber, ii, p. 304. *Bristed: Five Years at an English University. 



UNIVERSITIES 419 

ities, the value of the foundations, the history and the architecture, 
the known sympathy of entire Britain in what is done there, justify 
a dedication to study in the undergraduate, such as cannot easily 
be in America, where his college is half suspected by the Freshman 
to be insignificant in the scale beside trade and politics. Oxford is 
a httle aristocracy in itself, numerous and dignified enough to rank 
with other estates in the realm; and where fame and secular pro- 
motion are to be had for study, and in a direction which has the 
unanimous respect of all cultivated nations. 

This aristocracy, of course, repairs its own losses; fills places, as 
they fall vacant, from the body of students. The number of fellow- 
ships at Oxford is 540, averaging ;^2oo a year, with lodging and diet 
at the college. If a young American, loving learning, and hindered 
by poverty, were offered a home, a table, the walks, and the library, 
in one of these academical palaces, and a thousand dollars a year 
as long as he chose to remain a bachelor, he would dance for joy. 
Yet these young men thus happily placed, and paid to read, are 
impatient of their few checks, and many of them preparing to resign 
their fellowships. They shuddered at the prospect of dying a Fellow, 
and they pointed out to me a paralytic old man, who was assisted 
into the hall. As the number of undergraduates at Oxford is only 
about 1200 or 1300, and many of these are never competitors, the 
chance of a fellowship is very great. The income of the nineteen 
colleges is conjectured at ;^ 150,000 a year. 

The effect of this drill is the radical knowledge of Greek and 
Latin, and of mathematics, and the solidity and taste of English 
criticism. Whatever luck there may be in this or that award, an 
Eton captain can write Latin longs and shorts, can turn the Court- 
Guide into hexameters, and it is certain that a Senior Classic can 
quote correctly from the Corpus Poetarum, and is critically learned 
in all the humanities. Greek erudition exists on the Isis and Cam, 
whether the Maud man or the Brazen Nose man be properly ranked 
or not; the atmosphere is loaded with Greek learning; the whole 
river has reached a certain height, and kills all that growth of weeds 
which this Castalian water kills. The English nature takes culture 
kindly. So Milton thought. It refines the Norseman. Access to 
the Greek mind hfts his standard of taste. He has enough to think 



420 ENGLISH TRAITS 

of, and, unless of an impulsive nature, is indisposed from writing 
or speaking, by the fulness of his mind, and the new severity of 
his taste. The great silent crowd of thorough-bred Grecians always 
known to be around him, the English writer cannot ignore. They 
prune his orations, and point his pen. Hence, the style and tone of 
English journalism. The men have learned accuracy and compre- 
hension, logic, and pace, or speed of working. They have bottom, 
endurance, wind. When born with good constitutions, they make 
those eupeptic studying-mills, the cast-iron men, the dura ilia, whose 
powers of {performance compare with ours, as the steam-hammer 
with the music-box; — Cokes, Mansfields, Seldens, and Bentleys, and 
when it happens that a superior brain puts a rider on this admirable 
horse, we obtain those masters of the world who combine the highest 
energy in affairs, with a supreme culture. 

It is contended by those who have been bred at Eton, Harrow, 
Rugby, and Westminster, that the public sentiment within each of 
those schools is high-toned and manly; that in their playgrounds, 
courage is universally admired, meanness despised, manly feelings 
and generous conduct are encouraged: that an unwritten code of 
honor deals to the spoiled child of rank, and to the child of upstart 
wealth, an even-handed justice, purges their nonsense out of both, 
and does all that can be done to make them gentlemen. 

Again, at the universities, it is urged that all goes to form what 
England values as the flower of its national life, — a well-educated 
gentleman. The German Huber, in describing to his countrymen 
the attributes of an English gentleman, frankly admits that, "in 
Germany, we have nothing of the kind. A gentleman must possess 
a political character, an independent and public position, or, at least, 
the right of assuming it. He must have average opulence, either of 
his own, or in his family. He should also have bodily activity and 
strength, unattainable by our sedentary life in public offices. The 
race of English gentlemen presents an appearance of manly vigor 
and form, not elsewhere to be found among an equal number of 
persons. No other nation produces the stock. And, in England, it 
has deteriorated. The university is a decided presumption in any 
man's favor. And so eminent are the members that a glance at 
the calendars will show that in all the world one cannot be in better 



UNIVERSITIES 42 1 

company than on the books of one of the larger Oxford or Cam- 
bridge colleges." ' 

These seminaries are finishing schools for the upper classes, and 
not for the poor. The useful is exploded. The definition of a 
public school is "a school which excludes all that could fit a man 
for standing behind a counter."* 

No doubt, the foundations have been perverted. Oxford, which 
equals in wealth several of the smaller European states, shuts up 
the lectureships which were made "public for all men thereunto to 
have concourse"; mis-spends the revenues bestowed for such youths 
"as should be most meet for towardness, poverty, and painfulness"; 
there is gross favoritism; many chairs and many fellowships are 
made beds of ease; and 'tis likely that the university will know how 
to resist and make inoperative the terrors of parUamentary inquiry; 
no doubt, their learning is grown obsolete; — but Oxford also has its 
merits, and I found here also proof of the national fidelity and thor- 
oughness. Such knowledge as they prize they possess and impart. 
Whether in course or by indirection, whether by a cramming tutor 
or by examiners with prizes and foundation scholarships, education 
according to the English notion of it is arrived at. I looked over the 
Examination Papers of the year 1848, for the various scholarships 
and fellowships, the Lusby, the Hertford, the Dean-Ireland, and the 
University (copies of which were kindly given me by a Greek pro- 
fessor), containing the tasks which many competitors had victori- 
ously performed, and I believed they would prove too severe tests 
for the candidates for a Bachelor's degree in Yale or Harvard. And, 
in general, here was proof of a more searching study in the appointed 
directions, and the knowledge pretended to be conveyed was con- 
veyed. Oxford sends out yearly twenty or thirty very able men, and 
three or four hundred well-educated men. 

The diet and rough exercise secure a certain amount of old Norse 
power. A fop will fight, and, in exigent circumstances, will play 
the manly part. In seeing these youths, I believed I saw already an 
advantage in vigor and color and general habit, over their con- 
temporaries in American colleges. No doubt much of the power 

*Huber: Histoiy of the English Universities. Newman's translation. 
*See Bristed: Five Yean in an English University. New York, 1852. 



422 ENGLISH TRAITS 

and brilliancy of the reading-men is merely constitutional or hy- 
gienic. With a hardier habit and resolute gymnastics, with five miles 
more walking, or five ounces less eating, or with a saddle and gallop 
of twenty miles a day, with skating and rowing-matches, the Amer- 
ican would arrive at as robust exegesis and cheery and hilarious tone. 
I should readily concede these advantages, which it would be easy 
to acquire, if I did not find also that they read better than we, and 
write better. 

EngUsh wealth, falling on their school and university training, 
makes a systematic reading of the best authors, and to the end of a 
knowledge how the things whereof they treat really stand: whilst 
pamphleteer or journalist reading for an argument for a party, or 
reading to write, or, at all events, for some by-end imposed on them, 
must read meanly and fragmentarily. Charles I. said that he under- 
stood English law as well as a gentleman ought to understand it. 

Then they have access to books; the rich libraries collected at 
every one of many thousands of houses, give an advantage not to 
be attained by a youth in this country, when one thinks how much 
more and better may be learned by a scholar who, immediately on 
hearing of a book, can consult it, than by one who is on the quest 
for years, and reads inferior books because he cannot find the best. 

Again, the great number of cultivated men keep each other up to 
a high standard. The habit of meeting well-read and knowing men 
teaches the art of omission and selection. 

Universities are, of course, hostile to geniuses, which seeing and 
using ways of their own, discredit the routine: as churches and 
monasteries persecute youthful saints. Yet we all send our sons to 
college, and, though he be a genius, he must take his chance. The 
university must be retrospective. The gale that gives direction to 
the vanes on all its towers blows out of antiquity. Oxford is a library, 
and the professors must be librarians. And I should as soon think 
of quarrelling with the janitor for not magnifying his office by hostile 
sallies into the street like the Governor of Kertch or Kinburn, as of 
quarrelling with the professors for not admiring the young neologists 
who pluck the beards of Euclid and Aristotle, or for attempting 
themselves to fill their vacant shelves as original writers. 

It is easy to carp at college, and the college, if we will wait for it, 



RELIGION 423 

will have its own turn. Genius exists there also, but will not answer 
a call of a committee of the House of Commons. It is rare, pre- 
carious, eccentric, and darkling. England is the land of mixture and 
surprise, and when you have settled it that the universities are mori- 
bund, out comes a poetic influence from the heart of Oxford, to 
mould the opinions of cities, to build their houses as simply as birds 
their nests, to give veracity to art, and charm mankind, as an appeal 
to moral order always must. But besides this restorative genius, the 
best poetry of England of this age, in the old forms, comes from two 
graduates of Cambridge. 

CHAPTER XIII 

RELIGION 

No people, at the present day, can be explained by their national 
religion. They do not feel responsible for it; it lies far outside of 
them. Their loyalty to truth, and their labor and expenditure rest 
on real foundations, and not on a national church. An English life, 
it is evident, does not grow out of the Athanasian creed, or the 
Articles, or the Eucharist. It is with religion as with marriage. A 
youth marries in haste; afterward, when his mind is opened to the 
reason of the conduct of life, he is asked what he thinks of the 
institution of marriage, and of the right relations of the sexes? "I 
should have much to say," he might reply, "if the question were 
open, but I have a wife and children, and all question is closed for 
me." In the barbarous days of a nation, some cultus is formed or 
imported; altars are built, tithes are paid, priests ordained. The 
education and expenditure of the country take that direction, and 
when wealth, refinement, great men, and ties to the world super- 
vene, its prudent men say, why fight against Fate, or lift these 
absurdities which are now mountainous? Better find some niche 
or crevice in this mountain of stone which religious ages have quar- 
ried and carved, wherein to bestow yourself, than attempt anything 
ridiculously and dangerously above your strength, like removing it. 

In seeing old castles and cathedrals, I sometimes say, as to-day, in 
front of Dundee Church tower, which is eight hundred years old, 



424 ENGLISH TRAITS 

"This was built by another and a better race than any that now look 
on it." And, plainly, there has been great power of sentiment at 
work in this island, of which these buildings are the proofs: as 
volcanic basalts show the work of fire which has been extinguished 
for ages. England felt the full heat of the Christianity which fer- 
mented Europe, and drew, like the chemistry of fire, a firm line 
between barbarism and culture. The power of the religious senti- 
ment put an end to human sacrifices, checked appetite, inspired the 
crusades, inspired resistance to tyrants, inspired self-respect, set 
bounds to serfdom and slavery, founded liberty, created the religious 
architecture, — York, Newstead, Westminster, Fountains Abbey, 
Rip)on, Beverly, and Dundee, — works to which the key is lost, with 
the sentiment which created them; inspired the English Bible, the 
liturgy, the monkish histories, the chronicle of Richard of Devizes. 
The priest translated the Vulgate, and translated the sanctities of 
old hagiology into English virtues on English ground. It was a 
certain affirmative or aggressive state of the Caucasian races. Man 
awoke, refreshed by the sleep of ages. The violence of the northern 
savages exasperated Christianity into power. It lived by the love of 
the people. Bishop Wilfrid manumitted two hundred and fifty serfs, 
whom he found attached to the soil. The clergy obtained respite 
from labor for the boor on the Sabbath, and on church festivals. 
"The lord who compelled his boor to labor between sunset on Satur- 
day and sunset on Sunday, forfeited him altogether." The priest 
came out of the people, and sympathized with his class. The church 
was the mediator, check, and democratic principle in Europe. 
Latimer, Wiclifle, Arundel, Cobham, Antony Parsons, Sir Harry 
Vane, George Fox, Penn, Bunyan, are the democrats, as well as 
the saints, of their times. The Catholic church, thrown on this toil- 
ing, serious people, has made in fourteen centuries a massive system, 
close fitted to the manners and genius of the country, at once do- 
mestical and stately. In the long time, it has blended with everything 
in heaven above and the earth beneath. It moves through a zodiac 
of feasts and fasts, names every day of the year, every town and 
market and headland and monument, and has coupled itself with 
the almanac, that no court can be held, no field ploughed, no horse 
shod, without some leave from the church. All maxims of prudence, 



RELIGION 425 

or shop, or farm, are fixed and dated by the church. Hence, its 
strength in the agricuhural districts. The distribution of land into 
parishes enforces a church sanction to every civil privilege; and the 
gradation of the clergy, — prelates for the rich, and curates for the 
poor, — with the fact that a classical education has been secured to 
the clergyman, makes them "the link which unites the sequestered 
peasantry with the intellectual advancement of the age." ' 

The English church has many certificates to show of humble 
effective service in humanizing the people, in cheering and refining 
men, feeding, healing, and educating. It has the seal of martyrs and 
confessors; the noblest books; a sublime architecture; a ritual marked 
by the same secular merits, nothing cheap or purchasable. 

From this slow-grown church important reactions proceed; much 
for culture, much for giving a direction to the nation's affection and 
will to-day. The carved and pictured chapel, — its entire surface ani- 
mated with image and emblem, — made the parish-church a sort of 
book and Bible to the people's eye. 

Then, when the Saxon instinct had secured a service in the ver- 
nacular tongue, it was the tutor and university of the people. In 
York minster, on the day of the enthronization of the new arch- 
bishop, I heard the service of evening prayer read and chanted in 
the choir. It was strange to hear the pretty pastoral of the betrothal 
of Rebecca and Isaac, in the morning of the world, read with cir- 
cumstantiality in York minster, on the 13th January, 1848, to the 
decorous English audience, just fresh from the Times newspaper 
and their wine; and listening with all the devotion of national pride. 
That was binding old and new to some purpose. The reverence for 
the Scriptures is an element of civilization, for thus has the history 
of the world been preserved, and is preserved. Here in England 
every day a chapter of Genesis, and a leader in the Times. 

Another part of the same service on this occasion was not insig- 
nificant. Handel's coronation anthem, God save the King, was 
played by Dr. Camidge on the organ, with sublime effect. The 
minster and the music were made for each other. It was a hint of 
the part the church plays as a political engine. From his infancy, 
every Englishman is accustomed to hear daily prayers for the Queen, 

' Wordsworth. 



426 ENGLISH TRAITS 

for the royal family and the Parliament, by name; and this lifelong 
consecration of these personages cannot be without influence on his 
opinions. 

The universities, also, are parcel of the ecclesiastical system, and 
their first design is to form the clergy. Thus the clergy for a thousand 
years have been the scholars of the nation. 

The national temperament deeply enjoys the unbroken order and 
tradition of its church; the liturgy, ceremony, architecture; the sober 
grace, the good company, the connection with the throne, and with 
history, which adorn it. And whilst it endears itself thus to men of 
more taste than activity, the stability of the English nation is pas- 
sionately enlisted to its support, from its inextricable connection with 
the cause of public order, with politics, and with the funds. 

Good churches are not built by bad men; at least, there must be 
probity and enthusiasm somewhere in the society. These minsters 
were neither built nor filled by atheists. No church has had more 
learned, industrious, or devoted men; plenty of "clerks and bishops, 
who, out of their gowns, would turn their backs on no man." ' Their 
architecture still glows with faith in immortality. Heats and genial 
periods arrive in history, or shall we say, plentitudes of Divine Pres- 
ence, by which high tides are caused in the human spirit, and great 
virtues and talents appear, as in the eleventh, twelfth, thirteenth, 
and again in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, when the 
nation was full of genius and piety. 

But the age of the Wicliffes, Cobhams, Arundels, Beckets; of the 
Latimers, Mores, Cranmers; of the Taylors, Leightons, Herberts; 
of the Sherlocks, and Butlers, is gone. Silent revolutions in opinion 
have made it imfxjssible that men like these should return, or find 
a place in their once sacred stalls. The spirit that dwelt in this 
church has glided away to animate other activities; and they who 
come to the old shrines find ap)es and players rustling the old gar- 
ments. 

The religion of England is part of good-breeding. When you see 
on the continent the well-dressed Englishman come into his ambassa- 
dor's chapel, and put his face for silent prayer into his smooth- 

» Fuller. 



RELIGION 427 

brushed hat, one cannot help feeling how much national pride prays 
with him, and the religion of a gentleman. So far is he from attach- 
ing any meaning to the words, that he believes himself to have done 
almost the generous thing, and that it is very condescending in him 
to pray to God. A great duke said, on the occasion of a victory, in 
the House of Lords, that he thought the Almighty God had not been 
well used by them, and that it would become their magnanimity, 
after so great successes, to take order that a proper acknowledgment 
be made. It is the church of the gentry; but it is not the church of 
the poor. The operatives do not own it, and gentlemen lately testified 
in the House of Commons that in their lives they never saw a poor 
man in a ragged coat inside a church. 

The torpidity on the side of religion of the vigorous English 
understanding shows how much wit and folly can agree in one 
brain. Their religion is a quotation; their church is a doll; and any 
examination is interdicted with screams of terror. In good com- 
pany, you expect them to laugh at the fanaticism of the vulgar; but 
they do not: they are the vulgar. 

The English, in common perhaps with Christendom in the nine- 
teenth century, do not respect power, but only performance; value 
ideas only for an economic result. Wellington esteems a saint only 
as far as he can be an army chaplain: — "Mr. Briscoll, by his admir- 
able conduct and good sense, got the better of Methodism, which 
had appeared among the soldiers, and once among the officers." 
They value a philosopher as they value an apothecary who brings 
bark or a drench; and inspiration is only some blowpipe, or a finer 
mechanical aid. 

I suspect that there is in an Englishman's brain a valve that can 
be closed at pleasure, as an engineer shuts off steam. The most 
sensible and well-informed men possess the power of thinking just 
so far as the bishop in religious matters, and as the chancellor of 
the exchequer in politics. They talk with courage and logic, and 
show you magnificent results, but the same men who have brought 
free trade or geology to their present standing, look grave and lofty, 
and shut down their valve, as soon as the conversation approaches 
the English church. After that, you talk with a box-turtle. 

The action of the university, both in what is taught, and in the 



428 ENGLISH TRAITS 

spirit of the place, is directed more on producing an English gentle- 
man, than a saint or a psychologist. It ripens a bishop, and extrudes 
a philosopher. I do not know that there is more cabalism in the 
Anglican, than in other churches, but the Anglican clergy are identi- 
fied with the aristocracy. They say, here, that, if you talk with a 
clergyman, you are sure to find him well-bred, informed and candid. 
He entertains your thought or your project with sympathy and 
praise. But if a second clergyman come in, the sympathy is at an 
end: two together are inaccessible to your thought, and, whenever 
it comes to action, the clergyman invariably sides with his church. 

The Anglican church is marked by the grace and good sense of 
its forms, by the manly grace of its clergy. The gospel it preaches is, 
"By taste are ye saved." It keeps the old structures in repair, spends 
a world of money in music and building; and in buying Pugin, and 
architectural literature. It has a general good name for amenity and 
mildness. It is not in ordinary a persecuting church; it is not inquisi- 
torial, not even inquisitive, is perfectly well-bred, and can shut its 
eyes on all proper occasions. If you let it alone, it will let you alone. 
But its instinct is hostile to all change in politics, literature, or social 
arts. The church has not been the founder of the London University, 
of the Mechanics' Institutes, of the Free School, or whatever aims 
at diffusion of knowledge. The Platonists of Oxford are as bitter 
against this heresy, as Thomas Taylor. 

The doctrine of the Old Testament is the religion of England. 
The first leaf of the New Testament it does not open. It believes 
in a Providence which does not treat with levity a pound sterling. 
They are neither Transcendentalists nor Christians. They put up no 
Socratic prayer, much less any saintly prayer for the queen's mind; 
ask neither for light nor right, but say bluntly, "Grant her in health 
and wealth long to live." And one traces this Jewish prayer in all 
English private history, from the prayers of King Richard, in Rich- 
ard of Devizes' Chronicle, to those in the diaries of Sir Samuel 
Romilly, and of Haydon the painter. "Abroad with my wife," writes 
Pepys piously, "the first time that ever I rode in my own coach; 
which do make my heart rejoice and praise God, and pray him to 
bless it to me, and continue it." The bill for the naturalization of 
the Jews (in 1753) was resisted by petitions from all parts of the 



RELIGION 429 

kingdom, and by petition from the city of London, reprobating this 
bill, as, "tending extremely to the dishonor of the Christian religion, 
and extremely injurious to the interests and commerce of the king- 
dom in general, and of the city of London in particular." 

But they have not been able to congeal humanity by act of Parlia- 
ment. "The heavens journey still and sojourn not," and arts, wars, 
discoveries, and opinion go onward at their own pace. The new 
age has new desires, new enemies, new trades, new charities, and 
reads the Scriptures with new eyes. The chatter of French politics, 
the steam-whistle, the hum of the mill, and the noise of embarking 
emigrants had quite put most of the old legends out of mind; so 
that when you came to read the liturgy to a modern congregation, 
it was almost absurd in its unfitness, and suggested a masquerade 
of old costumes. 

No chemist has prospered in the attempt to crystallize a religion. 
It is endogenous, like the skin, and other vital organs. A new state- 
ment every day. The prophet and apostle knew this, and the non- 
conformist confutes the conformists, by quoting the texts they must 
allow. It is the condition of a religion, to require religion for its 
expositor. Prophet and apostle can only be rightly understood by 
prophet and apostle. The statesman knows that the religious element 
will not fail, any more than the supply of fibrine and chyle; but it 
is in its nature constructive, and will organize such a church as it 
wants. The wise legislator will spend on temples, schools, libraries, 
colleges, but will shun the enriching of priests. If, in any manner, 
he can leave the election and paying of the priest to the people, he 
will do well. Like the Quakers, he may resist the separation of a 
class of priests, and create opportunity and expectation in the society, 
to run to meet natural endowment, in this kind. But, when wealth 
accrues to chaplaincy, a bishopric, or rectorship, it requires moneyed 
men for its stewards, who will give it another direction than to the 
mystics of their day. Of course, money will do after its kind, and 
will steadily work to unspiritualize and unchurch the people to 
whom it was bequeathed. The class certain to be excluded from all 
preferment are the religious, — and driven to other churches; — which 
is nature's vis medicatrix. 

The curates are ill paid, and the prelates are overpaid. This abuse 



430 ENGLISH TRAITS 

draws into the church the children of the nobiUty, and other unfit 
persons, who have a taste for expense. Thus a bishop is only a 
surpliced merchant. Through his lawn, I can see the bright buttons 
of the shopman's coat glitter. A wealth like that of Durham makes 
almost a premium on felony. Brougham, in a speech in the House 
of Commons on the Irish elective franchise, said, "How will the 
reverend bishops of the other house be able to express their due 
abhorrence of the crime of perjury, who solemnly declare in the 
presence of God, that when they are called upon to accept a living, 
f)erhaps of ;{^4000 a year, at that very instant, they are moved by 
the Holy Ghost to accept the office and administration thereof, and 
for no other reason whatever?" The modes of initiation are more 
damaging than custom-house oaths. The Bishop is elected by the 
Dean and Prebends of the cathedral. The Queen sends these gentle- 
men a conge d'elire, or leave to elect; but also sends them the name 
of the person whom they are to elect. They go into the cathedral, 
chant and pray, and beseech the Holy Ghost to assist them in their 
choice; and, after these invocations, invariably find that the dictates 
of the Holy Ghost agree with the recommendations of the Queen. 

But you must pay for conformity. All goes well as long as you 
run with conformists. But you, who are honest men in other par- 
ticulars, know that there is alive somewhere a man whose honesty 
reaches to this point also, that he shall not kneel to false gods, and, 
on the day when you meet him, you sink into the class of counter- 
feits. Besides, this succumbing has grave penalties. If you take in 
a lie, you must take in all that belongs to it. England accepts this 
ornamented national church, and it glazes the eyes, bloats the flesh, 
gives the voice a stertorous clang, and clouds the understanding of 
the receivers. 

The English church, undermined by German criticism, had noth- 
ing left but tradition, and was led logically back to Romanism. But 
that was an element which only hot heads could breathe: in view 
of the educated class, generally, it was not a fact to front the sun; 
and the alienation of such men from the church became complete. 

Nature, to be sure, had her remedy. Religious persons are driven 
out of the Established Church into sects, which instantly rise to 
credit, and hold the EstabUshment in check. Nature has sharper 



RELIGION 431 

remedies, also. The English, abhorring change in all things, abhor- 
ring it most in matters of religion, cling to the last rag of form, and 
are dreadfully given to cant. The English (and I wish it were 
confined to them, but 'tis a taint in the Anglo-Saxon blood in both 
hemispheres), the English and the Americans cant beyond all other 
nations. The French relinquish all that industry to them. What is 
so odious as the polite bows to God, in our books and newspapers? 
The popular press is flagitious in the exact measure of its sancti- 
mony, and the religion of the day is a theatrical Sinai, where the 
thunders are supplied by the property-man. The fanaticism and 
hypocrisy create satire. Punch finds an inexhaustible material. Dick- 
ens writes novels on Exeter-Hall humanity. Thackeray ex|X)ses the 
heartless high life. Nature revenges herself more summarily by the 
heathenism of the lower classes. Lord Shaftesbury calls the poor 
thieves together, and reads sermons to them, and they call it "gas." 
George Borrow summons the Gypsies to hear his discourse on the 
Hebrews in Egypt, and reads to them the Apostles' Creed in Rom- 
any. "When I had concluded," he says, "I looked around me. The 
features of the assembly were twisted, and the eyes of all turned 
upon me with a frightful squint: not an individual present but 
squinted; the genteel Pepa, the good-humored Chicharona, the Cos- 
dami, all squinted: the Gypsy jockey squinted worst of all." 

The church at this moment is much to be pitied. She has nothing 
left but jx)ssession. If a bishop meets an intelligent gentleman, and 
reads fatal interrogations in his eyes, he has no resource but to take 
wine with him. False position introduces cant, perjury, simony, and 
ever a lower class of mind and character into the clergy: and, when 
the hierarchy is afraid of science and education, afraid of piety, 
afraid of tradition, and afraid of theology, there is nothing left but 
to quit a church which is no longer one. 

But the religion of England, — is it the Established Church? no; 
is it the sects? no; they are only perpetuations of some private man's 
dissent, and are to the Established Church as cabs are to a coach, 
cheaper and more convenient, but really the same thing. Where 
dwells the religion ? Tell me first where dwells electricity, or motion, 
or thought, or gesture. They do not dwell or stay at all. Electricity 
cannot be made fast, mortared up and ended, like London Monu- 



432 ENGLISH TRAITS 

ment, or the Tower, so that you shall know where to find it, and 
keep it fixed, as the English do with their things, forevermore; it 
is passing, glancing, gesticular; it is a traveller, a newness, a surprise, 
a secret, which perplexes them, and puts them out. Yet, if religion 
be the doing of all good, and for its sake the suffering of all evil, 
souffrir de tout le monde et ne jaire souffrir personne, that divine 
secret has existed in England from the days of Alfred to those of 
Romilly, of Clarkson, and of Florence Nightingale, and in thousands 
who have no fame. 



CHAPTER XIV 

LITERATURE 

A STRONG common-sense, which it is not easy to unseat or disturb, 
marks the English mind for a thousand years: a rude strength newly 
applied to thought, as of sailors and soldiers who had lately learned 
to read. They have no fancy, and never are surprised into a covert or 
witty word, such as pleased the Athenians and Italians, and was 
convertible into a fable not long after; but they delight in strong 
earthly expression, not mistakable, coarsely true to the human 
body, and, though spoken among princes, equally fit and welcome to 
the mob. This homeliness, veracity, and plain style appear in the 
earliest extant works, and in the latest. It imports into songs and 
ballads the smell of the earth, the breath of cattle, and, like a Dutch 
painter, seeks a household charm, though by pails and pans. They 
ask their constitutional utility in verse. The kail and herrings are 
never out of sight. The poet nimbly recovers himself from every 
sally of the imagination. The English muse loves the farmyard, the 
lane, and market. She says, with De Stael, "I tramp in the mire with 
wooden shoes, whenever they would force me into the clouds." 
For, the Englishman has accurate perceptions; takes hold of things 
by the right end, and there is no slipperiness in his grasp. He loves 
the axe, the spade, the oar, the gun, the steam-pipe: he has built the 
engine he uses. He is materialist, economical, mercantile. He must 
be treated with sincerity and reality, with muffins, and not the 
promise of muffins; and prefers his hot chop, with perfect security 



LITERATURE 433 

and convenience in the eating of it, to the chances of the amplest and 
Frenchiest bill of fare, engraved on embossed paper. When he is 
intellectual, and a poet or a philosopher, he carries the same hard 
truth and the same keen machinery into the mental sphere. His 
mind must stand on a fact. He will not be baffled, or catch at clouds, 
but the mind must have a symbol palpable and resisting. What he 
relishes in Dante is the vice-like tenacity with which he holds a 
mental image before the eyes, as if it were a scutcheon painted on a 
shield. Byron "liked something craggy to break his mind upon." 
A taste for plain strong speech, what is called a biblical style, marks 
the English. It is in Alfred, and the Saxon Chronicle, and in the 
Sagas of the Northmen. Latimer was homely. Hobbes was perfect 
in the "noble vulgar speech." Donne, Bunyan, Milton, Taylor, 
Evelyn, Pepys, Hooker, Cotton, and the translators wrote it. How 
realistic or materialistic in treatment of his subject is Swift. He 
describes his fictitious persons, as if for the police. Defoe has no 
insecurity or choice. Hudibras has the same hard mentality, — keep- 
ing the truth at once to the senses, and to the intellect. 

It is not less seen in poetry. Chaucer's hard painting of his Canter- 
bury pilgrims satisfies the senses. Shakspeare, Spenser, and Milton, 
in their loftiest ascents, have this national grip and exactitude of 
mind. This mental materialism makes the value of English trans- 
cendental genius; in these writers, and in Herbert, Henry More, 
Donne, and Sir Thomas Browne. The Saxon materialism and nar- 
rowness, exalted into the sphere of intellect, makes the very genius 
of Shakspeare and Milton. When it reaches the pure element, it 
treads the clouds as securely as the adamant. Even in its elevations, 
materialistic, its poetry is common-sense inspired; or iron raised to 
white heat. 

The marriage of the two qualities is in their speech. It is a tacit 
rule of the language to make the frame or skeleton of Saxon words, 
and, when elevation or ornament is sought, to interweave Roman; 
but sparingly; nor is a sentence made of Roman words alone, with- 
out loss of strength. The children and laborers use the Saxon 
unmixed. The Latin unmixed is abandoned to the colleges and 
Parliament. Mixture is a secret of the English island; and, in their 
dialect, the male principle is the Saxon; the female, the Latin; and 



434 ENGLISH TRAITS 

they are combined in every discourse. A good writer, if he has 
indulged in a Roman roundness, makes haste to chasten and nerve 
his period by EngHsh monosyllables. 

When the Gothic nations came into Europe, they found it lighted 
with the sun and moon of Hebrew and of Greek genius. The tablets 
of their brain, long kept in the dark, were finely sensible to the 
double glory. To the images from this twin source (of Christianity 
and art), the mind became fruitful as by the incubation of the Holy 
Ghost. The English mind flowered in every faculty. The common- 
sense was surprised and inspired. For two centuries, England was 
philosophic, religious, poetic. The mental furniture seemed of larger 
scale; the memory capacious like the storehouse of the rains; the 
ardor and endurance of study; the boldness and facility of their 
mental construction; their fancy, and imagination, and easy spanning 
of vast distances of thought; the enterprise or accosting of new sub- 
jects; and, generally, the easy exertion of power, astonish, like the 
legendary feats of Guy of Warwick. The union of Saxon precision 
and Oriental soaring, of which Shakspeare is the f)erfect example, is 
shared in less degree by the writers of two centuries. I find not only 
the great masters out of all rivalry and reach, but the whole writing 
of the time charged with a masculine force and freedom. 

There is a hygienic simpleness, rough vigor, and closeness to the 
matter in hand, even in the second and third class of writers; and, I 
think, in the common style of the people, as one finds it in the 
citation of wills, letters, and public documents, in proverbs, and 
forms of speech. The more hearty and sturdy expression may indi- 
cate that the savageness of the Norseman was not all gone. Their 
dynamic brains hurled off their words, as the revolving stone hurls 
off scraps of grit. I could cite from the seventeenth century sentences 
and phrases of edge not to be matched in the nineteenth. Their 
fxjets by simple force of mind equalized themselves with the accumu- 
lated science of ours. The country gentlemen had a posset or drink 
they called October; and the poets, as if by this hint, knew how to 
distil the whole season into their autumnal verses: and, as nature, 
to pique the more, sometimes works up deformities into beauty, in 
some rare Aspasia, or Cleopatra; and, as the Greek art wrought 
many a vase or column, in which too long, or too Uthe, or nodes, or 



LITERATURE 435 

pits and flaws, are made a beauty of; so these were so quick and 
vital, that they could charm and enrich by mean and vulgar objects. 

A man must think that age well taught and thoughtful, by which 
masques and poems, like those of Ben Jonson, full of heroic senti- 
ment in a manly style, were received with favor. The unique fact in 
literary history, the unsurprised reception of Shakspeare; — the recep- 
tion proved by his making his fortune; and the apathy proved by 
the absence of all contemporary panegyric, — seems to demonstrate an 
elevation in the mind of the people. Judge of the splendor of a 
nation, by the insignificance of great individuals in it. The manner 
in which they learned Greek and Latin, before our modern facilities 
were yet ready, without dictionaries, grammars, or indexes, by 
lectures of a professor, followed by their own searchings, — required 
a more robust memory, and cooperation of all the faculties; and 
their scholars, Camden, Usher, Selden, Mede, Gataker, Hooker, 
Taylor, Burton, Bendey, Brian Walton, acquired the soUdity and 
method of engineers. 

The influence of Plato tinges the British genius. Their minds 
loved analogy; were cognizant of resemblances, and climbers on the 
staircase of unity. 'Tis a very old strife between those who elect to 
see identity, and those who elect to see discrepances; and it renews 
itself in Britain. The p)oets, of course, are of one part; the men of the 
world, of the other. But Britain had many disciples of Plato; — More, 
Hooker, Bacon, Sidney, Lord Brooke, Herbert, Browne, Donne, 
Spenser, Chapman, Milton, Crashaw, Norris, Cudworth, Berkeley, 
Jeremy Taylor. 

Lord Bacon has the English duality. His centuries of observations, 
on useful science, and his experiments, I suppose, were worth noth- 
ing. One hint of Franklin, or Watt, or Dalton, or Davy, or any one 
who had a talent for experiment, was worth all his lifetime of 
exquisite trifles. But he drinks of a diviner stream, and marks the 
influx of idealism into England. Where that goes, is poetry, health, 
and progress. The rules of its genesis or its diffusion are not known. 
That knowledge, if we had it, would supersede all that we call 
science of the mind. It seems an affair of race, or of meta<hemistry; 
— the vital point being, — how far the sense of unity, or instinct of 
seeking resemblances, predominated. For, wherever the mind takes 



436 ENGLISH TRAITS 

a step, it is, to put itself at one with a larger class, discerned beyond 
the lesser class with which it has been conversant. Hence all poetry 
and all affirmative action come. 

Bacon, in the structure of his mind, held of the analogists, of the 
idealists, or (as we popularly say, naming from the best example) 
Platonists. Whoever discredits analogy, and requires heaps of facts, 
before any theories can be attempted, has no poetic power, and noth- 
ing original or beautiful will be produced by him. Locke is as surely 
the influx of decomposition and of prose, as Bacon and the Platonists 
of growth. The Platonic is the poetic tendency; the so-called scien- 
tific is the negative and poisonous. 'Tis quite certain that Spenser, 
Burns, Byron, and Wordsworth will be Platonists; and that the dull 
men will be Lockists. Then politics and commerce will absorb from 
the educated class men of talents without genius, precisely because 
such have no resistance. 

Bacon, capable of ideas, yet devoted to ends, required, in his map 
of the mind, first of all, universality, or prima philosophia, the recep- 
tacle for all such profitable observations and axioms as fall not within 
the compass of any of the special parts of philosophy, but are more 
common, and of a higher stage. He held this element essential : it is 
never out of mind: he never spares rebukes for such as neglect it; 
believing that no perfect discovery can be made in a flat or level, but 
you must ascend to a higher science. "If any man thinketh philos- 
ophy and universality to be idle studies, he doth not consider that 
all professions are from thence served and supplied, and this I take to 
be a great cause that has hindered the progression of learning, 
because these fundamental knowledges have been studied but in 
passage." He explained himself by giving various quaint examples 
of the summary or common laws, of which each science has its own 
illustration. He complains that "he finds this part of learning very 
deficient, the profounder sort of wits drawing a bucket now and 
then for their own use, but the spring-head unvisited. This was 
the dry light which did scorch and offend most men's watery 
natures." Plato had signified the same sense, when he said, "All 
the great arts require a subtle and speculative research into the law 
of nature, since loftiness of thought and perfect mastery over every 
subject seem to be derived from some such source as this. This 



LITERATURE 437 

Pericles had, in addition to a great natural genius. For, meeting 
with Anaxagoras, who was a person of this kind, he attached 
himself to him, and nourished himself with sublime speculations on 
the absolute intelligence; and imported thence into the oratorical 
art whatever could be useful to it." 

A few generalizations always circulate in the world, whose authors 
we do not rightly know, which astonish, and appear to be avenues to 
vast kingdoms of thought, and these are in the world constants, 
like the Cof)ernican and Newtonian theories in physics. In England, 
these may be traced usually to Shakspeare, Bacon, Milton, or Hooker, 
even to Van Helmont and Behmen, and do all have a kind of filial 
retrosf)ect to Plato and the Greeks. Of this kind is Lord Bacon's 
sentence, that "nature is commanded by obeying her;" his doctrine 
of poetry, which "accommodates the shows of things to the desires 
of the mind," or the Zoroastrian definition of poetry, mystical, yet 
exact, "apparent pictures of unapparent natures;" Spenser's creed, 
that "soul is form, and doth the body make;" the theory of Berkeley, 
that we have no certain assurance of the existence of matter; Doctor 
Samuel Clarke's argument for theism from the nature of space and 
time; Harrington's political rule that power must rest on land, — 
a rule which requires to be liberally interpreted; the theory of 
Swedenborg, so cosmically applied by him, that the man makes his 
heaven and hell; Hegel's study of civil history, as the conflict of 
ideas and the victory of the deeper thought; the identity-philosophy 
of Schelling, couched in the statement that "all difference is quantita- 
tive." So the very announcement of the theory of gravitation, of 
Kepler's three harmonic laws, and even of Dalton's doctrine of 
definite proportions, finds a sudden response in the mind, which 
remains a superior evidence to empirical demonstrations. I cite 
these generalizations, some of which are more recent, merely to 
indicate a class. Not these particulars, but the mental plane or the 
atmosphere from which they emanate, was the home and element 
of the writers and readers in what we loosely call the Elizabethan 
age (say, in literary history, the period from 1575 to 1625), yet a 
period almost short enough to justify Ben Jonson's remark on Lord 
Bacon: "About this time, and within his view, were born all the 
wits that could honor a nation, or help study." 



438 ENGLISH TRAITS 

Such richness of genius had not existed more than once before. 
These heights could not be maintained. As we find stumps of vast 
trees in our exhausted soils, and have received traditions of their 
ancient fertility to tillage, so history reckons epochs in which the 
intellect of famed races became effete. So it fared with English 
genius. These heights were followed by a meanness, and a descent 
of the mind into lower levels; the loss of wings; no high speculation. 
Locke, to whom the meaning of ideas was unknown, became the 
type of philosophy, and his "understanding" the measure, in all 
nations, of the English intellect. His countrymen forsook the lofty 
sides of Parnassus, on which they had once walked with echoing 
steps, and disused the studies once so beloved; the powers of thought 
fell into neglect. The later English want the faculty of Plato and 
Aristotle, of grouping men in natural classes by an insight of general 
laws so deep that the rule is deduced with equal precision from few 
subjects or from one, as from multitudes of lives. Shakspeare is 
supreme in that, as in all the great mental energies. The Germans 
generahze: the English cannot interpret the German mind. German 
science comprehends the English. The absence of the faculty in Eng- 
land is shown by the timidity which accumulates mountains of facts, 
as a bad general wants myriads of men and miles of redoubts, to 
compensate the inspirations of courage and conduct. 

The English shrink from a generalization. "They do not look 
abroad into universality, or they draw only a bucket-full at the 
fountain of the First Philosophy for their occasion, and do not go to 
the spring-head." Bacon, who said this, is almost unique among his 
countrymen in that faculty, at least among the prose-writers. Milton, 
who was the stair or high table-land to let down the English genius 
from the summits of Shakspeare, used this privilege sometimes in 
poetry, more rarely in prose. For a long interval afterwards, it is not 
found. Burke was addicted to generalizing, but his was a shorter 
line; as his thoughts have less depth, they have less compass. Hume's 
abstractions are not deep or wise. He owes his fame to one keen 
observation, that no copula had been detected between any cause and 
effect, either in physics or in thought; that the term cause and 
effect was loosely or gratuitously applied to what we know only as 
consecutive, not at all as causal. Doctor Johnson's written abstrac- 



LITERATURE 439 

tions have little value: the tone of feeling in them makes their chief 
worth. 

Mr. Hallam, a learned and elegant scholar, has written the history 
of European literature for three centuries, — a performance of great 
ambition, inasmuch as a judgment was to be attempted on every 
book. But his eye does not reach to the ideal standards: the verdicts 
are all dated from London: all new thought must be cast into the 
old moulds. The expansive element which creates literature is 
steadily denied. Plato is resisted, and his school. Hallam is uni' 
formly polite, but with deficient sympathy; writes with resolute 
generosity, but is unconscious of the deep worth which lies in the 
mystics, and which often outvalues as a seed of power and a source 
of revolution all the correct writers and shining reputations of their 
day. He passes in silence, or dismisses with a kind of contempt, the 
profounder masters: a lover of ideas is not only uncongenial, but 
unintelligible. Hallam inspires respect by his knowledge and fidelity, 
by his manifest love of good books, and he lifts himself to own 
better than almost any the greatness of Shakspeare, and better than 
Johnson he appreciates Milton. But in Hallam, or in the firmer 
intellectual nerve of Mackintosh, one still finds the same type of 
Enghsh genius. It is wise and rich, but it lives on its capital. It is 
retrospective. How can it discern and hail the new forms that are 
looming up on the horizon, — new and gigantic thoughts which 
cannot dress themselves out of any old wardrobe of the past? 

The essays, the fiction, and the poetry of the day have the like 
municipal limits. Dickens, with preternatural apprehension of the 
language, of the manners, and the varieties of street life, with pathos 
and laughter, with patriotic and still enlarging generosity, writes 
London tracts. He is a painter of English details, like Hogarth; 
local and temporary in his tints and style, and local in his aims. 
Bulwer, an industrious writer, with occasional ability, is distin- 
guished for his reverence of intellect as a temporality, and appeals 
to the worldly ambition of the student. His romances tend to 
fan these low flames. Their novelists despair of the heart. Thackeray 
finds that God has made no allowance for the poor thing in his uni- 
verse; — more's the pity, he thinks; — but 'tis not for us to be wiser; 
we must renounce ideals, and accept London. 



440 ENGLISH TRAITS 

The brilliant Macaulay, who expresses the tone of the English 
governing classes of the day, explicitly teaches that good means 
good to eat, good to wear, material commodity; that the glory of 
modern philosophy is its direction on "fruit"; to yield economical 
inventions; and that its merit is to avoid ideas, and to avoid morals. 
He thinks it the distinctive merit of the Baconian philosophy, in 
its triumph over the old Platonic, its disentangling the intellect from 
theories of the all-Fair and all-Good, and pinning it down to the 
making a better sick chair and a better wine-whey for an invalid; — 
this not ironically, but in good faith; — that "solid advantage," as 
he calls it, meaning always sensual benefit, is the only good. The 
eminent benefit of astronomy is the better navigation it creates to 
enable the fruit-ships to bring home their lemons and wine to the 
London grocer. It was a curious result, in which the civility and 
religion of England for a thousand years ends in denying morals, 
and reducing the intellect to a saucepan. 

The critic hides his scepticism under the English cant of practical. 
To convince the reason, to touch the conscience, is romantic pre- 
tension. The fine arts fall to the ground. Beauty, except as luxurious 
commodity, does not exist. It is very certain, I may say in passing, 
that if Lord Bacon had been only the sensualist his critic pretends, 
he would never have acquired the fame which now entitles him to 
this patronage. It is because he had imagination, the leisures of 
the spirit, and basked in an element of contemplation out of all 
modern English atmospheric gauges, that he is impressive to the 
imaginations of men, and has become a potentate not to be ignored. 
Sir David Brewster sees the high place of Bacon without finding 
Newton indebted to him, and thinks it a mistake. Bacon occupies 
it by specific gravity or levity, not by any feat he did, or by any 
tutoring, more or less, of Newton, &c., but an effect of the same 
cause which showed itself more pronounced afterwards in Hooke, 
Boyle, and Halley. 

Coleridge, a catholic mind with a hunger for ideas, with eyes 
looking before and after to the highest bards and sages, and who 
wrote and spoke the only high criticism in his time, — is one of those 
who save England from the reproach of no longer possessing the 
capacity to appreciate what rarest wit the island has yielded. Yet the 



LITERATURE 44 1 

misfortune of his life, his vast attempts but most inadequate per- 
formings, failing to accomplish any one masterpiece, seems to mark 
the closing of an era. Even in him, the traditional Englishman was 
too strong for the philosopher, and he fell into accommodations: 
and, as Burke had striven to idealize the English State, so Coleridge 
"narrowed his mind" in the attempt to reconcile the Gothic rule 
and dogma of the AngUcan Church with eternal ideas. But for 
Coleridge, and a lurking taciturn minority, uttering itself in occa- 
sional criticism, oftener in private discourse, one would say that in 
Germany and in America is the best mind in England rightly 
respected. It is the surest sign of national decay, when the Bramins 
can no longer read or understand the Braminical philosophy. 

In the decomposition and asphyxia that followed all this material- 
ism, Carlyle was driven by his disgust at the pettiness and the cant, 
into the preaching of Fate. In comparison with all this rottenness, 
any check, any cleansing, though by fire, seemed desirable and beauti- 
ful. He saw little difference in the gladiators, or the "causes" for 
which they combated; the one comfort was that they were all going 
speedily into the abyss together: And his imagination, finding no 
nutriment in any creation, avenged itself by celebrating the majestic 
beauty of the laws of decay. The necessities of mental structure force 
all minds into a few categories, and where impatience of the tricks 
of men makes Nemesis amiable, and builds altars to the negative 
Deity, the inevitable recoil is to heroism or the gallantry of the 
private heart, which decks its immolation with glory, in the unequal 
combat of will against fate. 

Wilkinson, the editor of Swedenborg, the annotator of Fourier, 
and the champion of Hahnemann, has brought to metaphysics and 
to physiology a native vigor, with a catholic perception of relations, 
equal to the highest attempts, and a rhetoric like the armory of the 
invincible knights of old. There is in the action of his mind a long 
Atlantic roll not known except in deepest waters, and only lacking 
what ought to accompany such powers, a manifest centrality. If his 
mind does not rest in immovable biases, f)erhaps the orbit is larger, 
and the return is not yet: but a master should inspire a confidence 
that he will adhere to his convictions, and give his present studies 
always the same high place. 



442 ENGLISH TRAITS 

It would be easy to add exceptions to the limitary tone o£ English 
thought, and much more easy to adduce examples of excellence in 
particular veins: and if, going out of the region of dogma, we pass 
into that of general culture, there is no end of the graces and 
amenities, wit, sensibility, and erudition, of the learned class. But 
the artificial succor which marks all English performance, appears 
in letters also: much of their arsthetic production is antiquarian and 
manufactured, and literary reputations have been achieved by for- 
cible men, whose relation to literature was purely accidental, but 
who were driven by tastes and modes they found in vogue into their 
several careers. So, at this moment, every ambitious young man 
studies geology: so members of Parliament are made, and church- 
men. 

The bias of Englishmen to practical skill has reacted on the 
national mind. They are incapable of an inutility, and respect the 
five mechanic powers even in their song. The voice of their modern 
muse has a slight hint of the steam-whisde, and the poem is created 
as an ornament and finish of their monarchy, and by no means as 
the bird of a new morning which forgets the past world in the full 
enjoyment of that which is forming. They are with difficulty ideal; 
they are the most conditioned men, as if, having the best conditions, 
they could not bring themselves to forfeit them. Every one of 
them is a thousand years old, and lives by his memory: and when 
you say this, they accept it as praise. 

Nothing comes to the book-shops but politics, travels, statistics, 
tabulation, and engineering, and even what is called philosophy and 
letters is mechanical in its structure, as if inspiration had ceased, 
as if no vast hop)e, no religion, no song of joy, no wisdom, no analogy, 
existed any more. The tone of colleges, and of scholars and of literary 
society, has this mortal air. I seem to walk on a marble floor, where 
nothing will grow. They exert every variety of talent on a lower 
ground, and may be said to live and act in a sub-mind. They have 
lost all commanding views in literature, philosophy, and science. A 
good Englishman shuts himself out of three-fourths of his mind, 
and confines himself to one-fourth. He has learning, good sense, 
p)Ower of labor, and logic: but a faith in the laws of the mind like 
that of Archimedes; a belief like that of Euler and Kepler, that 



LITERATURE 443 

experience must follow and not lead the laws of the mind; a devo- 
tion to the theory of politics, like that of Hooker, and Milton, and 
Harrington, the modern EngHsh mind repudiates. 

I fear the same fault lies in their science, since they have known 
how to make it repulsive, and bereave nature of its charm; — though 
perhaps the complaint flies wider, and the vice attaches to many 
more than to British physicists. The eye of the naturalist must have 
a scope like nature itself, a susceptibility to all impressions, alive to 
the heart as well as to the logic of creation. But English science puts 
humanity to the door. It wants the connection which is the test 
of genius. The science is false by not being poetic. It isolates the 
reptile or moUusk it assumes to explain; whilst reptile or mollusk 
only exists in system, in relation. The poet only sees it as an inevi- 
table step in the path of the Creator. But, in England, one hermit 
finds this fact, and another finds that, and Uves and dies ignorant of 
its value. There are great exceptions, of John Hunter, a man of ideas; 
perhaps of Robert Brown, the botanist; and of Richard Owen, who 
has imported into Britain the German homologies, and enriched 
science with contributions of his own, adding sometimes the divina- 
tion of the old masters to the unbroken power of labor in the 
English mind. But for the most part, the natural science in England 
is out of its loyal alliance with morals, and is as void of imagination 
and free play of thought, as conveyancing. It stands in strong con- 
trast with the genius of the Germans, those semi-Greeks, who love 
analogy, and, by means of their height of view, preserve their 
enthusiasm, and think for Europe. 

No hope, no sublime augury, cheers the student, no secure striding 
from experiment onward to a foreseen law, but only a casual dipping 
here and there, like diggers in California "prospecting for a placer" 
that will pay. A horizon of brass of the diameter of his umbrella shuts 
down around his senses. Squalid contentment with conventions, 
satire at the names of philosophy and religion, parochial and shop- 
till politics, and idolatry of usage, betray the. ebb of life and spirit. 
As they trample on nationalities to reproduce London and London- 
ers in Europe and Asia, so they fear the hostility of ideas, of poetry, 
of religion, — ^ghosts which they cannot lay; — and, having attempted 
to domesticate and dress the Blessed Soul itself in English broad- 



444 ENGLISH TRAITS 

cloth and gaiters, they are tormented with fear that herein lurks a 
force that will sweep their system away. The artists say, "Nature 
puts them out;" the scholars have become un-ideal. They parry 
earnest spieech with banter and levity; they laugh you down, or they 
change the subject. "The fact is," say they, over their wine, "all 
that about liberty, and so forth, is gone by; it won't do any longer." 
The practical and comfortable oppress them with inexorable claims, 
and the smallest fraction of power remains for heroism and poetry. 
No poet dares murmur of beauty out of the precinct of his rhymes. 
No priest dares hint at a Providence which does not respect English 
utility. The island is a roaring volcano of fate, of material values, 
of tariffs, and laws of repression, glutted markets, and low prices. 

In the absence of the highest aims, of the pure love of knowledge, 
and the surrender to nature, there is the suppression of the imagina- 
tion, the priapism of the senses and the understanding; we have the 
factitious instead of the natural; tasteless expense, arts of comfort, 
and the rewarding as an illustrious inventor whosoever will con- 
trive one impediment more to interpose between the man and his 
objects. 

Thus poetry is degraded, and made ornamental. Pope and his 
school wrote poetry fit to put round frosted cake. What did Walter 
Scott write without stint? a rhymed traveller's guide to Scotland. 
And the libraries of verses they print have this Birmingham charac- 
ter. How many volumes of well-bred metre we must gingle through, 
before we can be filled, taught, renewed! We want the miraculous; 
the beauty which we can manufacture at no mill, — can give no 
account of; the beauty of which Chaucer and Chapman had the 
secret. The poetry of course is low and prosaic; only now and then, 
as in Wordsworth, conscientious; or in Byron, passional, or in Ten- 
nyson, factitious. But if I should count the poets who have con- 
tributed to the bible of existing England sentences of guidance and 
consolation which are still glowing and effective, — how few! Shall 
I find my heavenly bread in the reigning poets? Where is great 
design in modern English pxjetry? The English have lost sight of 
the fact that poetry exists to speak the spiritual law, and that no 
wealth of description or of fancy is yet essentially new, and out of 
the limits of prose, until this condition is reached. Therefore the 



LITERATURE 445 

grave old poets, like the Greek artists, heeded their designs, and less 
considered the finish. It was their office to lead to the divine sources, 
out of which all this, and much more, readily springs; and, if this 
religion is in the poetry, it raises us to some purpose, and we can 
well afford some staidness, or hardness, or want of popular tune in 
the verses. 

The exceptional fact of the period is the genius of Wordsworth. 
He had no master but nature and solitude. "He wrote a poem," 
says Landor, "without the aid of war." His verse is the voice of 
sanity in a worldly and ambitious age. One regrets that his temjjera- 
ment was not more liquid and musical. He has written longer tlian 
he was inspired. But for the rest, he has no competitor. 

Tennyson is endowed precisely in points where Wordsworth 
wanted. There is no finer ear, nor more command of the keys of 
language. Color, like the dawn, flows over the horizon from his 
pencil, in waves so rich that we do not miss the central form. 
Through all his refinements, too, he has reached the public, — a cer- 
tificate of good sense and general power, since he who aspires to be 
the English poet must be as large as London, not in the same kind 
as London, but in his own kind. But he wants a subject, and climbs 
no mount of vision to bring its secrets to the people. He contents 
himself with describing the Englishman as he is, and proposes no 
better. There are all degrees in poeity, and we must be thankful 
for every beautiful talent. But it is only a first success, when the ear 
is gained. The best office of the best poets has been to show how low 
and uninspired was their general style, and that only once or twice 
they have struck the high chord. 

That expansiveness which is the essence of the poetic element, they 
have not. It was no Oxonian, but Hafiz, who said, "Let us be 
crowned with roses, let us drink wine, and break up the tiresome 
old roof of heaven into new forms." A stanza of the song of nature 
the Oxonian has no ear for, and he does not value the salient and 
curative influence of intellectual action, studious of truth, without a 
by-end. 

By the law of contraries, I look for an irresistible taste for Oriental- 
ism in Britain. For a self-conceited modish life, made up of trifles, 
clinging to a corporeal civilization, hating ideas, there is no remedy 



446 ENGLISH TRAITS 

like the Oriental largeness. That astonishes and disconcerts English 
decorum. For once there is thunder it never heard, light it never 
saw, and power which trifles with time and space. I am not sur- 
prised, then, to find an Englishman like Warren Hastings, who had 
been struck with the grand style of thinking in the Indian writings, 
deprecating the prejudices of his countrymen, while offering them a 
translation of the Bhagvat. "Might I, an unlettered man, venture to 
prescribe bounds to the latitude of criticism, I should exclude, in 
estimating the merit of such a production, all rules drawn from the 
ancient or modern literature of Europe, all references to such senti- 
ments or manners as are become the standards of propriety for 
opinion and action in our modes, and, equally, all appeals to our 
revealed tenets of religion and moral duty." ' He goes on to bespeak 
indulgence to "ornaments of fancy unsuited to our taste, and passages 
elevated to a tract of sublimity into which our habits of judgment 
will find it difficult to pursue them." 

Meantime, I know that a retrieving power lies in the English 
race, which seems to make any recoil possible; in other words, there 
is at all times a minority of profound minds existing in the nation, 
capable of appreciating every soaring of intellect and every hint of 
tendency. While the constructive talent seems dwarfed and super- 
ficial, the criticism is often in the noblest tone, and suggests the 
presence of the invisible gods. I can well believe what I have often 
heard, that there are two nations in England; but it is not the Poor 
and the Rich; nor is it the Normans and Saxons; nor the Celt and 
the Goth. These are each always becoming the other; for Robert 
Owen does not exaggerate the power of circumstance. But the two 
complexions, or two styles of mind, — the perceptive class, and the 
practical finality class, — are ever in counterpoise, interacting mutu- 
ally; one in hopeless minorities; the other, in huge masses; one 
studious, contemplative, exjxjrimenting; the other, the ungrateful 
pupil, scornful of the source, whilst availing itself of the knowledge 
for gain; these two nations, of genius and of animal force, though 
the first consist of only a dozen souls, and the second of twenty 
millions, forever by their discord and their accord yield the power 
of the English State. 

' Preface to Wilkins's Translation of the Bhagvat Gccta. 



THE "times" 447 



CHAPTER XV 

THE "times" 



The power of the newspaper is familiar in America, and in ac- 
cordance with our poHticai system. In England, it stands in antag- 
onism with the feudal institutions, and it is all the more beneficent 
succor against the secretive tendencies of a monarchy. The cele- 
brated Lord Somers "knew of no good law proposed and passed in 
his time, to which the public papers had not directed his attention." 
There is no corner and no night. A relentless inquisition drags every 
secret to the day, turns the glare of this solar microscope on every 
malfaisance, so as to make the public a more terrible spy than any 
foreigner; and no weakness can be taken advantage of by an enemy, 
since the whole people are already forewarned. Thus England rids 
herself of those incrustations which have been the ruin of old states. 
Of course, this inspection is feared. No antique privilege, no com- 
fortable monopoly, but sees surely that its days are counted; the 
people are familiarized with the reason of reform, and, one by one, 
take away every argument of the obstructives. "So your grace likes 
the comfort of reading the newspapers," said Lord Mansfield to the 
Duke of Northumberland; "mark my words; you and I shall not 
live to see it, but this young gentleman (Lord Eldon) may, or it 
may be a little later; but a little sooner or later, these newspapers 
will most assuredly write the dukes of Northumberland out of their 
titles and possessions, and the country out of its king." The tendency 
in England towards social and political institutions like those of 
America, is inevitable, and the ability of its journals is the driving 
force. 

England is full of manly, clever, well-bred men who possess the 
talent of writing off-hand pungent paragraphs, expressing with clear- 
ness and courage their opinion on any p)erson or performance. 
Valuable or not, it is a skill that is rarely found, out of the English 
journals. The English do this, as they write poetry, as they ride 
and box, by being educated to it. Hundreds of clever Praeds, and 
Freres and Froudes, and Hoods, and Hooks, and Maginns, and 
Mills, and Macaulays, make poems or short essays for a journal, as 



448 ENGLISH TRAITS 

they make speeches in Parliament and on the hustings, or as they 
shoot and ride. It is a quite accidental and arbitrary direction of their 
general ability. Rude health and spirits, an Oxford education, and 
the habits of society are implied, but not a ray of genius. It comes 
of the crowded state of the professions, the violent interest which 
all men take in poUtics, the facility of experimenting in the journals, 
and high pay. 

The most conspicuous result of this talent is the "Times" news- 
paper. No power in England is more felt, more feared, or more 
obeyed. What you read in the morning in that journal, you shall 
hear in the evening in all society. It has ears everywhere, and its 
information is earliest, completest, and surest. It has risen, year by 
year, and victory by victory, to its present authority. I asked one of 
its old contributors, whether it had once been abler than it is now ? 
"Never," he said; "these are its palmiest days." It has shown those 
qualities which are dear to Englishmen, unflinching adherence to 
its objects, prodigal intellectual ability, and a towering assurance, 
backed by the perfect organization in its printing-house, and its 
world-wide network of correspondence and reports. It has its own 
history and famous trophies. In 1820, it adopted the cause of Queen 
Caroline, and carried it against the king. It adopted a poor-law 
system, and almost alone lifted it through. When Lord Brougham 
was in power, it decided against him, and pulled him down. It 
declared war against Ireland, and conquered it. It adopted the 
League against the Corn Laws, and, when Cobden had begun to 
despair, it announced his triumph. It denounced and discredited 
the French Republic of 1848, and checked every sympathy with it 
in England, until it had enrolled 200,000 special constables to watch 
the Chartists, and make them ridiculous on the loth April. It first 
denounced and then adopted the new French Empire, and urged 
the French Alliance and its results. It has entered into each munic- 
ipal, literary, and social question, almost with a controlling voice. 
It has done bold and seasonable service in exposing frauds which 
threatened the commercial community. Meantime, it attacks its 
rivals by perfecting its printing machinery, and will drive them out 
of circulation: for the only limit to the circulation of the "Times" 
is the impossibility of printing copies fast enough; since a daily 



THE "times" 449 

paper can only be new and seasonable for a few hours. It will kill 
all but that paper which is diametrically in opposition; since many 
papers, first and last, have lived by their attacks on the leading 
journal. 

The late Mr. Walter was printer of the "Times," and had gradu- 
ally arranged the whole materiel of it in perfect system. It is told 
that when he demanded a small share in the proprietary, and was 
refused, he said, "As you please, gentlemen; and you may take 
away the 'Times' from this office, when you will; I shall publish the 
'New Times,' next Monday morning." The proprietors, who had 
already complained that his charges for printing were excessive, 
found that they were in his power, and gave him whatever he 
wished. 

I went one day with a good friend to the "Times" office, which 
was entered through a pretty garden-yard, in Printing-House Square. 
We walked with some circumspection, as if we were entering a 
powder-mill; but the door was opened by a mild old woman, and, 
by dint of some transmission of cards, we were at last conducted into 
the parlor of Mr. Morris, a very gentle person, with no hostile ap- 
pearances. The statistics are now quite out of date, but I remember 
he told us that the daily printing was then 35,000 copies; that on 
the ist March, 1848, the greatest number ever printed, — 54,000 were 
issued; that since February, the daily circulation had increased by 
8,000 copies. The old press they were then using printed five or six 
thousand sheets per hour; the new machine, for which they were 
then building an engine, would print twelve thousand per hour. 
Our entertainer confided us to a courteous assistant to show us the 
establishment, in which, I think, they employed a hundred and 
twenty men. I remember I saw the reporters' room, in which they 
redact their hasty stenographs, but the editor's room, and who is in 
it, I did not see, though I shared the curiosity of mankind respect- 
ing it. 

The staff of the "Times" has always been made up of able men. 
Old Walter, Sterling, Bacon, Barnes, Alsiger, Horace Twiss, Jones 
Loyd, John Oxenford, Mr. Moseley, Mr. Bailey, have contributed to 
its renown in their special departments. But it has never wanted 
the first pens for occasional assistance. Its private information is 



450 ENGLISH TRAITS 

inexplicable, and recalls the stories of Fouche's police, whose om- 
niscience made it believed that the Empress Josephine must be in 
his pay. It has mercantile and political correspondents in every 
foreign city; and its expresses outrun the despatches of the govern- 
ment. One hears anecdotes of the rise of its servants, as of the func- 
tionaries of the India House. I was told of the dexterity of one of 
its reporters, who, finding himself, on one occasion, where the 
magistrates had strictly forbidden reporters, put his hands into his 
coat-pocket, and with pencil in one hand, and tablet in the other, 
did his work. 

The influence of this journal is a recognized power in Europe, 
and, of course, none is more conscious of it than its conductors. The 
tone of its articles has often been the occasion of comment from the 
official organs of the continental courts, and sometimes the ground 
of diplomatic complaint. What would the "Times" say ? is a terror 
in Paris, in Berlin, in Vienna, in Copenhagen, and in Nepaul. Its con- 
summate discretion and success exhibit the English skill of combina- 
tion. The daily paper is the work of many hands, chiefly, it is said, 
of young men recently from the University, and perhaps reading 
law in chambers in London. Hence the academic elegance, and 
classic allusion, which adorn its columns. Hence, too, the heat and 
gallantry of its onset. But the steadiness of the aim suggests the 
belief that this fire is directed and fed by older engineers; as if per- 
sons of exact information, and with settled views of policy, supplied 
the writers with the basis of fact, and the object to be attained, and 
availed themselves of their younger energy and eloquence to plead 
the cause. Both the council and the executive departments gain by 
this division. Of two men of equal ability, the one who does not 
write, but keeps his eye on the course of public affairs, will have the 
higher judicial wisdom. But the parts are kept in concert; all the 
articles appear to proceed from a single will. The "Times" never 
disapproves of what itself has said, or cripples itself by apology for 
the absence of the editor, or the indiscretion of him who held the 
pen. It speaks out bluff and bold, and sticks to what it says. It draws 
from any number of learned and skilful contributors; but a more 
learned and skilful person supervises, corrects, and coordinates. Of 
this closet, the secret does not transpire. No writer is suffered to 



THE "times" 451 

claim the authorship of any paper; everything good, from whatever 
quarter, comes out editorially; and thus, by making the paper every- 
thing, and those who write it nothing, the character and the awe 
of the journal gain. 

The English like it for its complete information. A statement 
of fact in the "Times" is as reliable as a citation from Hansard. Then, 
they like its independence; they do not know, when they take it up, 
what their paper is going to say: but, above all, for the nationality 
and confidence of its tone. It thinks for them all ; it is their under- 
standing and day's ideal daguerreotyped. When I see them reading 
its coli'mns, they seem to me becoming every moment more British. 
It has the national courage, not rash and petulant, but considerate 
and determined. No dignity or wealth is a shield from its assault. 
It attacks a duke as readily as a jX)liceman, and with the most pro- 
voking airs of condescension. It makes rude work with the Board 
of Admiralty. The Bench of Bishops is still less safe. One Bishop 
fares badly for his rapacity, and another for his bigotry, and a third 
for his courtliness. It addresses occasionally a hint to Majesty itself, 
and sometimes a hint which is taken. There is an air of freedom 
even in their advertising columns, which sp)eaks well for England 
to a foreigner. On the days when I arrived in London in 1847, I 
read among the daily announcements, one offering a reward of fifty 
pounds to any person who would put a nobleman, described by name 
and title, late a member of Parliament, into any county jail in Eng- 
land, he having been convicted of obtaining money under false 
pretences. 

Was never such arrogancy as the tone of this paper. Every slip 
of an Oxonian or Cantabrigian who writes his first leader, assumes 
that we subdued the earth before we sat down to write this particular 
"Times." One would think, the world was on its knees to the 
"Times" Office for its daily breakfast. But this arrogance is calcu- 
lated. Who would care for it if it "surmised," or "dared to confess," 
or "ventured to predict," &c. No; it is so, and so it shall be. 

The morality and patriotism of the "Times" claims only to be 
representative, and by no means ideal. It gives the argument, not 
of the majority, but of the commanding class. Its editors know bet- 
ter than to defend Russia, or Austria, or EngUsh vested rights, on 



452 ENGLISH TRAITS 

abstract grounds. But they give a voice to the class who, at the 
moment, take the lead; and they have an instinct for finding where 
the power now Ues, which is eternally shifting its banks. Sympa- 
thizing with and speaking for the class that rules the hour, yet being 
apprised of every ground-swell, every Chartist resolution, every 
Church squabble, every strike in the mills, they detect the first 
tremblings of change. They watch the hard and bitter struggles 
of the authors of each liberal movement, year by year, — watching 
them only to taunt and obstruct them, — until, at last, when they see 
that these have established their fact, that power is on the point of 
passing to them, — they strike in, with the voice of a monarch, 
astonish those whom they succor, as much as those whom they desert, 
and make victory sure. Of course, the aspirants see that the "Times" 
is one of the goods of fortune, not to be won but by winning their 
cause. 

"Punch" is equally an expression of English good sense, as the 
"Lxjndon Times." It is the comic version of the same sense. Many 
of its caricatures are equal to the best pamphlets, and will convey 
to the eye in an instant the popular view which was taken of each 
turn of public affairs. Its sketches are usually made by masterly 
hands, and sometimes with genius; the delight of every class, because 
uniformly guided by that taste which is tyrannical in England. It 
is a new trait of the nineteenth century that the wit and humor of 
England, as in Punch, so in the humorists, Jerrold, Dickens, Thack- 
eray, Hood, have taken the direction of humanity and freedom. 

The "Times," like every important institution, shows the way to a 
better. It is a living index of the colossal British power. Its existence 
honors the people who dare to print all they know, dare to know all 
the facts, and do not wish to be flattered by hiding the extent of 
the public disaster. There is always safety in valor. I wish I could 
add that this journal aspired to deserve the power it wields, by 
guidance of the public sentiment to the right. It is usually pretended, 
in Parliament and elsewhere, that the English press has a high tone, 
— which it has not. It has an imperial tone as of a powerful and 
independent nation. But as with other empires, its tone is prone to 
be official, and even officinal. The "Times" shares all the Hmitations 
of the governing classes, and wishes never to be in a minority. If 



STONEHENGE 453 

only it dared to cleave to the right, to show the right to be the only 
expedient, and feed its batteries from the central heart of humanity, 
it might not have so many men of rank among its contributors, but 
genius would be its cordial and invincible ally; it might now and 
then bear the brunt of formidable combinations, but no journal is 
ruined by wise courage. It would be the natural leader of British 
reform; its proud function, that of being the voice of Europe, the 
defender of the exile and patriot against despots, would be more 
effectually discharged; it would have the authority which is claimed 
for that dream of good men not yet come to pass, an International 
Congress; and the least of its victories would be to give to England 
a new millennium of beneficent power. 

CHAPTER XVI 

STONEHENGE 

It had been agreed between my friend Mr. C. and me, that before 
I left England we should make an excursion together to Stonehenge, 
which neither of us had seen; and the project pleased my fancy 
with the double attraction of the monument and the companion. It 
seemed a bringing together of extreme points, to visit the oldest 
religious monument in Britain, in company with her latest thinker, 
and one whose influence may be traced in every contemporary book. 
I was glad to sum up a little my experiences, and to exchange a few 
reasonable words on the aspects of England, with a man on whose 
genius I set a very high value, and who had as much penetration, 
and as severe a theory of duty, as any person in it. On Friday, 7th 
July, we took the South Western Railway through Hampshire to 
Salisbury, where we found a carriage to convey us to Amesbury. 
The fine weather and my friend's local knowledge of Hampshire, 
in which he is wont to spend a part of every summer, made the 
way short. There was much to say, too, of the travelling Americans, 
and their usual objects in London. I thought it natural that they 
should give some time to works of art collected here, which they 
cannot find at home, and a little to scientific clubs and museums, 
which at this moment, make London very attractive. But my phil- 



454 ENGLISH TRAITS 

osopher was not contented. Art and "high art" is a favorite target 
for his wit. "Yes, Kunst is a great delusion, and Goethe and Schiller 
wasted a great deal of good time on it:" — and he thinks he dis- 
covers that old Goethe found this out, and, in his later writings, 
changed his tone. As soon as men begin to talk of art, architecture, 
and antiquities, nothing good comes of it. He wishes to go through 
the British Museum in silence, and thinks a sincere man will see 
something, and say nothing. In these days, he thought, it would 
become an architect to consult only the grim necessity, and say, "I 
can build you a coffin for such dead persons as you are, and for 
such dead purposes as you have, but you shall have no ornament."* 
For the science, he had, if possible, even less tolerance, and com- 
pared the savans of Somerset House to the boy who asked Confucius 
"how many stars in the sky?" Confucius replied, "he minded things 
near him:" then said the boy, "how many hairs are there in your 
eyebrows?" Confucius said, "he didn't know and didn't care." 

Still speaking of the Americans, C. complained that they dislike 
the coldness and exclusiveness of the English, and run away to 
France, and go with their countrymen, and are amused, instead of 
manfully staying in London, and confronting Englishmen, and 
acquiring their culture, who really have much to teach them. 

I told C. that I was easily dazzled, and was accustomed to concede 
readily all that an Englishman would ask; I saw everywhere in 
the country proofs of sense and spirit, and success of every sort: 
I like the people: they are as good as they are handsome; they have 
everything, and can do everything: but meantime, I surely know 
that, as soon as I return to Massachusetts, I shall lapse at once into 
the feeling, which the geography of America inevitably inspires, 
that we play the game with immense advantage; that there and not 
here is the seat and centre of the British race: and that no skill or 
activity can long compete with the prodigious natural advantages 
of that country, in the hands of the same race; and that England, 
an old and exhausted island, must one day be contented, like other 
parents, to be strong only in her children. But this was a proposition 
which no EngUshman of whatever condition can easily entertain. 

We left the train at Salisbury, and took a carriage to Amesbury, 
passing by Old Sarum, a bare, treeless hill, once containing the 



STONEHENCE 455 

town which sent two members to ParHament, — now, not a hut; — 
and, arriving at Amesbury, stopped at the George Inn. After dinner, 
we walked to SaHsbury Plain. On the broad downs, under the gray 
sky, not a house was visible, nothing but Stonehenge, which looked 
like a group of brown dwarfs in the wide expanse, — Stonehenge and 
the barrows, — which rose like green bosses about the plain, and a few 
hayricks. On the top of a mountain, the old temple would not be 
more impressive. Far and wide a few shepherds with their flocks 
sprinkled the plain, and a bagman drove along the road. It looked 
as if the wide margin given in this crowded isle to this primeval 
temple were accorded by the veneration of the British race to the 
old egg out of which all their ecclesiastical structures and history 
had proceeded. Stonehenge is a circular colonnade with a diameter 
of a hundred feet, and enclosing a second and third colonnade 
within. We walked round the stones, and clambered over them, to 
wont ourselves with their strange aspect and groupings, and found 
a nook sheltered from the wind among them, where C. lighted his 
cigar. It was pleasant to see that just this simplest of all simple 
structures, — two upright stones and a lintel laid across,' — had long 
outstood all later churches, and all history, and were like what is 
most permanent on the face of the planet: these, and the barrows, — 
mere mounds (of which there are a hundred and sixty within a 
circle of three miles about Stonehenge), like the same mound on 
the plain of Troy, which still makes good to the passing mariner 
on Hellespont the vaunt of Homer and the fame of Achilles. With- 
in the enclosure, grow buttercups, nettles, and, all around, wild 
thyme, daisy, meadowsweet, goldenrod, thistle, and the carpeting 
grass. Over us, larks were soaring and singing, — as my friend said, 
"the larks which were hatched last year, and the wind which was 
hatched many thousand years ago." We counted and measured 
by paces the biggest stones, and soon knew as much as any man 
can suddenly know of the inscrutable temple. There are ninety-four 
stones, and there were once probably one hundred and sixty. The 
temple is circular, and uncovered, and the situation fixed astronom- 
ically, — the grand entrances here, and at Abury, being placed exactly 
northeast, "as all the gates of the old cavern temples are." How 
came the stones here ? for these sarsens, or Druidical sandstones, are 



456 ENGLISH TRAITS 

not found in this neighborhood. The sacrificial stone, as it is called, 
is the only one in all these blocks, that can resist the action of fire, 
and as I read in the books, must have been brought one hundred 
and fifty miles. 

On almost every stone we found the marks of the mineralogist's 
hammer and chisel. The nineteen smaller stones of the inner circle 
are of granite. I, who had just come from Professor Sedgwick's 
Cambridge Museum of megatheria and m